Nadelson’s novel—which occasionally recalls John Williams' Stoner—drifts through 20 years of a man’s domestic life.
Paul Haberman meets Cynthia, falls in love, and gives up his bachelor lifestyle in Manhattan for marriage and a “rambling suburban house” with her two kids. From there, each chapter jumps two years ahead of the last, dipping into a different moment in Haberman’s life: taking the kids to Raiders of the Lost Ark, waiting for a car repair, or becoming the unwanted focus of a comedian during a stand-up set at a club. Even in the more fraught moments—like moving a parent into an assisted living facility or toying with the idea of a business-trip affair—Nadelson (The Next Scott Nadelson: A Life in Progress, 2013, etc.) avoids clean narrative arcs or Aristotelian drama. The lesson? Life’s loosely connected occurrences accumulate like junk in a closet, and only in old age does one realize that the accumulation was the point. Nadelson’s book has a bit of lumpiness to it: not every chapter hits equally hard, and occasional interludes, each titled “Nocturne for left hand,” disrupt the book by seeming self-conscious and too writerly, the author wrangling life into poetry rather than letting the poetry unfold naturally. But mostly this novel alights on small profundities, like the joy of yardwork or the intimacy of watching bad crime shows with your family or the epiphanies that can come while pondering life on a plane—and which are best forgotten once back on land. Finally, all of this gathers into...well, what? Meaning? “Paul was tired of changes, but changes kept coming,” Nadelson writes. Maybe that’s the point: there’s optimism in change, in occasional alienation, because it means the world is at least growing in each moment, however uninflected it may seem.
An unexpected epic made from life’s minor moments.