APATHY by Paul Neilan


and Other Small Victories
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Death and misery stalk the antihero of Neilan’s comic debut—and that’s just at the crummy temp gig.

Shane knows a bar whose happy hour begins when most people are taking their first coffee break, but then he’s got the kind of life that’ll prompt a guy to start drinking at 10 a.m.: He’s fully convinced that his upstairs neighbor is carrying on an untoward relationship with his pet guinea pig; his landlord won’t be so pushy about the rent if he’ll sleep with his wife; and his sexual encounters with his girlfriend, Gwen, tend to feel a lot like professional wrestling matches. Oh, and he’s accused of murdering Marlene, a deaf dental hygienist who taught Shane to talk dirty in sign language. Neilan ultimately resolves Marlene’s death but not Shane’s bottomless hatred for himself and the world around him, and the funniest bits have him going metaphorically off the grid—the beer at a party tastes “like kiddie porn,” sex with the neighbor’s wife is “like an off-duty clown swinging two fish together by their tails.” If you can hang with Neilan’s taste in rude jokes and non sequiturs, there’s lots to like: Even if the humiliation of temp-slave life is well-trod ground for comedy writers, Shane’s abjection about alphabetizing files (and worse, his getting congratulated for his fine job of alphabetizing) gets some fresh laughs. But the occasional laugh-out-loud line doesn’t salvage a narrative that never quite jells. Shane’s regularly referenced tic of stealing salt shakers never becomes meaningful in terms of either plot or characterization, and the jokes get more leaden toward the end, as the author is forced to tie together the story’s multiple threads. More than a couple gags at the expense of the mentally retarded don’t do Neilan any favors, but Shane’s never pretended to be polite.

Inventing a do-nothing slob you can empathize with is a neat trick, but the story’s a bit too slovenly.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 2006
ISBN: 0-312-35174-7
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2006


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