Lost souls pedaling through post-modern America try fitfully to connect in this bleakly engrossing novel.
Leading the caravan is Duke Dalton, retired CEO of a motivational audio-tape company and founder of a nonprofit called Caregivers for Humanity. A charismatic font of crackpot inspirational homilies, he assembles a group of feckless 20-somethings for a summer bike tour of desultory do-gooding–making sandwiches for the homeless, cleaning up housing-project lawns, taking kids to the zoo. Duke’s hangers-on include Toby, a born-again Christian chef uneasy about his engagement to Penny, a smart but aimless woman who insists she loved all 13 of her previous â€œpenetration partners”; Danny, a good-hearted gay man looking for redemption; Lewis, a self-consciously detached artist who sculpts papier-mache women while coldly fending off attachments to the real version; and Toby’s half-brother Mills, an emotionally numb, half-Vietnamese physicist who briefly joins the group during a sojourn in pre-Katrina New Orleans. The loosely structured story only sporadically brings these characters into contact; they spend most of their time brooding over their backstories. The men are most afflicted: Laboring under masculine stereotypes that enjoin on them a â€œrage and filth and dangerousness” they can’t live up to, they feel belittled and bruised by demanding, sexually cavalier women. Their self-pity licenses a compensatory callousness, as when Lewis shrugs off a pregnant girlfriend with an offer of $300 per month in exchange for weekend visitation rights. Peters employs a lean, deadpan prose style, full of evocative, off-hand imagery and a precise, ironic rendering of contemporary clichÃ©s. He captures the mind-set of wary, isolated, particularly male singletons, mordantly aware of the emptiness of their lives yet leery of anything that might fill the void.
A fine debut by a talented writer.