In this novel, a California screenwriter attempts to turn his life into a romantic comedy.
Five years after his divorce and deep into middle age, Nate Evans is standing among the wreckage of his former life. Literally. The Air Force just accidentally bombed his trailer—which sat on a grassy hill overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean—to smithereens. With his best years behind him, the washed-up Hollywood screenwriter wishes he could have a do-over, just like in the movies. To go back to high school when life made sense and he had the affection of sweet Julie Cooper: “If he only wished for it hard enough, he might transport himself back in time. Raw desire with a tremendous imagination was a powerful thing.” Very powerful, in fact. Nate soon finds himself living back at his parents’ house and taking a temporary position at his old high school, Mt. Hamilton in San Jose, where that same Julie Cooper (now a widow and grandmother) is the assistant principal. Even after all these years, Nate detects a spark still flickering between them. With everything in place, he decides to literally relive his high school experience, using his abilities as a screenwriter to compose his plans beforehand and put them into action. Can he fix his mistakes from the first time, opening up a new future for himself in the process? (“Maybe he would get an honest-to-God usable script from it, send it to his agent or anyone else who might be interested in something like Grumpy Old Men meets Back to the Future—minus the Delorean time-travel hot rod. Well, maybe not.”) Will a bit of Hollywood-style drama liven things up or is he setting himself up for an even grander failure than before?
Brill’s (The Patterer, 2013, etc.) prose is punchy and packed with colorful imagery that communicates the angst and literary inclinations of his protagonist: “The sun lingered over the Pacific’s horizon like a rubbernecking tourist trying to get one last look at the horrific scene of an accident.” The California setting is well-drawn, and Nate’s history as a screenwriter allows him to reflexively leap to movie references without taking readers out of the narrative. In his pursuit of drugs, sex, and his lost youth, Nate exhibits quite a bit of off-putting immaturity, but that’s kind of the point. He’s balanced out by the character of Julie, who, having survived a more traditionally challenging (i.e., adult) experience, is more relatable in her desire to revisit an earlier point in her life. Brill has managed to craft a satire that both skewers and celebrates the often myopic nostalgia of baby boomers and their attempts to replicate the thrills of their youth. Younger readers may roll their eyes at some of the humor, but the author’s target audience will likely find a great deal to laugh and cry over in this accessibly shrewd portrait.
An observant comedy with a dose of heart.