Rushin’s first novel revels in wordplay and pub culture but skimps on everything else.
That guy at the bar doing the crossword, a pint of Guinness at his elbow, is indulging in his two greatest pleasures. Rodney Poole is a regular at Boyle’s, a Manhattan dive that is more home to him than his dirty shoebox of an apartment. Here he can banter with the other regulars and Armen the Barman. With the ladies, Rodney’s on less firm ground; his last date was ruined by a misunderstood palindrome. However, change is coming for this unemployed 34-year-old. Keith, his drinking buddy since college, is leaving for Chicago and marriage, but has set him up with a blind date. Mairead can look Rodney in the eye (she’s six feet to his six-five), and she shares his love of words, so they may have a future. Romancing her and tending to Keith, who broke his foot during a run-in at the bar, is about all the action Rodney gets in this sliver of a story, which often stops cold so the omniscient narrator can pass along the words of Orwell, Camus and Fitzgerald. Former Sports Illustrated columnist Rushin (The Caddie Was a Reindeer, 2004, etc.) makes an awkward transition to fiction. When he’s not dropping literary names, he’s filling in the narrative gaps with fart jokes and close-ups of toilets. He doesn’t fare much better with characterization, especially that of his protagonist: Rodney is a generic, educated slob, a pale shadow of the better-specified Ignatius J. Reilly in Confederacy of Dunces.
There are some flashes of wit—Rodney tells Mairead, a stickler for correct use of apostrophes, “you’re beautiful when you’re pedantic”—but they blur into a comic monologue too eager to please.