After a series of unfortunate events, a recent college graduate questions his faith in life and love.
The protagonist of prolific French-born writer, artist, and poet Kent’s (Pop the Plug, 2012, etc.) third novel arrives in Washington, D.C., from Stone Harbor, Massachusetts. Fresh from college and his claustrophobic family, he is eager to prove his ambition and worth to his critical father and himself. It’s the early 1980s, and Albert Nostran, an aspiring journalist raised in France, struggles to find his footing amid the neighborhoods within his new chosen city. Young and restless, a variety of women flit into and out of his romantic orbit: a museum patron, a Gremlin owner, a sweet magazine salesperson. There’s also his oddball, “only partially employed” new roommate, Davey Gronket, and pushy boss, who both add dramatic texture to a story that primarily runs on characterization. Nostran learns the journalistic ropes through a grueling, graveyard-shift internship at Universal Wire Service, where eccentric co-workers and news and personal events keep things lively, among them the precarious presidential election of Ronald Reagan, the murder of John Lennon, and the protagonist’s father’s stroke, which particularly lends the narrative a good dose of poignancy. But when Nostran becomes smitten with the boss’s daughter Claire, their ill-advised relationship expectedly fizzles, and the hero is tossed back onto the unemployment line. Kent’s era awareness of snail mail and landlines is spot-on, and Nostran is an instantly likable young man whose attempts at finding a girlfriend include adorable poetry and postcards dropped in mailboxes. The internal monologues lamenting his female frustrations are both painful and hilarious: “It was either too ripe or not ripe enough because, as my lips were about to indulge in the most natural of all acts, she turned her head away, and all I could feel was a cheekbone.” The featherweight plot isn’t the main attraction in Kent’s novel, however; it is his resilient leading man who, even amid a string of ill-fated episodes, remains a model of perseverance and positive thinking that readers should find as charming as Nostran’s search for true love.
A delightfully calamitous chronicle of city struggles, bad luck, and mismatched dating.