A young man in a theater troupe struggles to get his life together in the wake of graduate school and a failed marriage.
By the first few pages of McKeon’s debut novel, protagonist and narrator Bob is convinced that it’s “all over, college, grad school, the seventies and the marriage.” The actor is on a “sweat-soaked” Naugahyde bus with his friend Ripley. It’s 1980 and the two 25-year-olds have accepted paid summer residencies at the PCPA theater, a well-known company in the central California tourist town of Santa Maria, in order to actively run from the realities of having just finished MFAs. What the PCPA fails to offer them in terms of speaking roles, money, and a glamorous locale, it more than makes up for with its host of fascinating fellow actors. The members of the company start to couple and uncouple in between wild, hazy parties and rehearsals for everything from Henry V to Death of a Salesman. But, being theatrical and eccentric, these are not your average quirky twentysomethings; there’s a fugitive from the FBI, a man who refuses to be separated from his dog, and Bob’s sublimely blunt roommate, Angie—who, like the protagonist, might have gotten married much too young. Each encounter forces Bob to come to terms with his insecurities, his unsuccessful marriage, and what his craft still has to teach him about life. A final twist on the very last page remains one of the few moments to land with a disappointing thud—but only because Bob’s subsequent reaction is missing. Intriguing as they are, the other characters are mere stage directions for the real star: Bob’s wry inner monologue. His thoughts jump from the self-aggrandizing fervor of an improvised audition to the somber rerun of his wife’s departure before ending with a perfectly timed, caustic joke (“Ripley was raised Catholic. He knew all about” self-loathing, Bob says at one point, casually reducing his only real friend in the world). McKeon times these beats impeccably; he writes with a kinetic energy that propels Bob’s darkest and funniest moments at the same pace, making for both a fully realized narrator and a compulsive read.
An endearingly flawed actor’s thoughts come to life, thanks to swift and clever prose.