The belated coming-of-age of a thirtysomething slacker stumbling through life in the wilds of Iowa.
Anyone who takes more than ten years to finish college is off to a bad start in life, and Andrew Bergman needed twelve. The son of an Air Force officer and a college professor, Andrew lacked both his father’s military sense of order and his mother’s academic taste for nuance. So he drank, worked at Starbucks, read Shakespeare, drank, became a sign painter, drank some more. He drank a whole lot, in fact, partly because he had fallen in love with Izzy Miller, the bartender at his local dive. Izzy is a divorcée who was living with her teenaged twin sons, Russ and Alex, and a 16-year-old orphan named Julie, who was Russ’s girlfriend. Although Russ and Alex both warn Izzy that Andrew is no good, she follows her heart and marries him. And Andrew does begin to clean up his act: He stops drinking and gets a job as a counselor at a local outreach center for adolescents. But fate refuses to let him pull a good hand, and before the year is out Izzy and Russ are killed in a car crash. Stunned by the blow, Andrew struggles vainly to keep custody of Alex and Julie. It becomes complicated—especially after Julie (pregnant with Russ’s child) becomes Andrew’s lover and Alex is discovered having sex with Andrew’s gay ex-convict friend Aaron. Perhaps Andrew needs to rethink his vocation as a counselor for teenagers—but, then again, maybe he’s perfect for the job. If he can get himself out of his own mess, he’ll have plenty of advice to hand out. But that’s a pretty big if.
Competent but depressing: first-novelist Rinehart (stories: Kick in the Head, 2000) writes in a flat, detached tone appropriate to the story but exhausting to read.