California philosophy professor Oscar Boatwright has his notions of free will severely tested when he's seduced by a self-possessed student named Dawn who involves him in a dangerous drug-dealing scheme.
It's not an auspicious time for Oscar. His mother died during a flight from Hawaii, where she was paying secret visits to a self-help guru who took all of her family savings, and left her husband, Oscar's father, high and dry. After Oscar drunkenly sleeps with Dawn, not knowing she's his student until he spots her in class the next Monday, he's worried the hookup will cost him his job. But after Dawn blackmails him into retrieving a backpack of drugs from Mexico, the professor (who is 29 but seems older) is most worried about staying alive. His fears are justified when he's captured by Mexican drug smugglers whose leader calmly tells him he has had women and children killed and Oscar is next. What would Schopenhauer say? Oscar, who believes the script for his life has already been written and he is merely acting it out, struggles "to think of some evidence...that the essence of existence was not suffering." Good luck with that: With the exception of his unlikely romance with Dawn, life is one wild misadventure after another for Oscar. That includes his hopeless pursuit of the shady self-help character, whose videos, he discovers, are not entirely without worth. For all its edgy, downbeat humor, the novel inspires a deep emotional investment in Oscar. The big existential questions that get asked are brilliantly framed by his antics. The payoff is, dare we say it, profound.
Brooklyn writer Mancusi's revelatory novel is a drug tale with a difference—even the chase scenes are philosophical.