Browne’s (Big Egos, 2013, etc.) latest novel is a social-satire–meets–amateur-superhero saga that deftly skewers the money-grubbing slickness of the pharmaceutical industry—as well as American culture’s propensity to pop a pill for absolutely anything that ails us, regardless of how outrageously unpredictable the side effects may be.
Our narrator is Lloyd Prescott, an aimless, slacker-ish 30-year-old on New York City’s Lower East Side who abandoned his stalled marketing career five years ago after realizing there was money to be made in volunteering as a guinea pig for experimental phase 1 clinical drug trials. Having endured more than 150 drug trials in that time, Lloyd has amassed a misfit crew of five fellow professional–guinea-pig buddies who meet up monthly to compare notes on the various meds' side effects. Lloyd has picked up on something bizarre during his current cycle: whenever he yawns, people around him fall asleep, as if the side effects he’s enduring are being passed on to regular folks around him. His friends are noticing similar issues—for instance, when one of them, Vic, feels nauseous, a woman near him suddenly vomits, and another, Randy, appears to be making people mysteriously break out in rashes. Perplexed, they set out to determine what, exactly, is behind this madness. The fun supernatural-lite themes kick into gear as the gang learns that the problem may be bigger and stranger than they’d imagined; enter a gaggle of evil foes with “powers” similar to those of Lloyd and company. Browne’s voice is smart, engaging, and approachable, and Lloyd is a guy we’ve all met in real life: you know, that one in a five-year domestic partnership who remains terrified of settling down; the dude who’d rather panhandle on the street than sell his soul by working for The Man.
This is a funny, inventive exploration of the dangers inherent in our overmedicated culture. Readers who enjoy a dash of sharp wit with their comic-book shenanigans should enjoy tagging along on Lloyd’s everyday-superhero exploits.