An angst-y all-American coming-of-age tale in 18 linked vignettes, Roberts’ debut captures the anger and tumult of early adulthood in the George W. Bush years.
Graduating from college shortly after 9/11, Mike spends his 20s butting up against a world of broken promises. (“The Baby Boomers have fucked us,” he announces at family Christmas dinner.) He drifts into and out of cities and jobs: D.C., New York, Portland, and Austin; counting lampposts, writing spam emails, painting houses, substitute teaching. He's at work on a novel, a tragedy about a farmer and his cows that is “a kind of allegory about the Invasion of Iraq.” Friendships and lovers fade in and out, coming into focus and flitting away again. At the center is a girl, of course, and their on-again, off-again relationship is big and destructive and passionate and mean. “I had come to understand,” Mike reflects, not unromantically, “that Lauren would eventually kill me in the way that many coupling insects go.” In one vignette, a washed-up co-worker introduces Mike to the depressing world of off-track betting. In another—the title story—he and Lauren are tearing each other apart in a house in D.C. He’s sitting in the waiting room of a Portland Planned Parenthood reflecting on the art of email spam; he’s in Austin, watching a once-wild friend raise a baby son. Much as in real life, Mike’s relentlessly self-destructive millennial macho posturing can grow tiring, and Roberts’ telling of it sometimes feels just a touch too invested in its own edginess. Still, impression by impression, fragment by fragment, Roberts chronicles the low-grade agony of growing up with insight and accuracy.
A study of young masculinity: atmospheric, quietly aggressive, and unexpectedly hopeful.