Sunday, April 7, 2013
What Happens When Hipsters Get Older? Read On
Soft Skull Press
$15.95 trade paper, available now
Reviewed by Richard, 3.75* of five
The Publisher Says: When his bicycle is intentionally run off the road by a neighbor's SUV, something snaps in Bob Coffen. Modern suburban life has been getting him down and this is the last straw. To avoid following in his own father’s missteps, Bob is suddenly desperate to reconnect with his wife and his distant, distracted children. And he's looking for any guidance he can get.
Bob Coffen soon learns that the wisest words come from the most unexpected places, from characters that are always more than what they appear to be: a magician/marriage counselor, a fast-food drive-thru attendant/phone-sex operator, and a janitor/guitarist of a French KISS cover band. Can these disparate voices inspire Bob to fight for his family? To fight for his place in the world?
A call-to-arms for those who have ever felt beaten down by life, Fight Song is a quest for happiness in a world in which we are increasingly losing control. It is the exciting new novel by one of the most surprising and original writers of his generation.
My Review: Have you ever wondered what would've happened if Updike and Cheever had mated while watching a Rock-and-Doris comedy on an acid trip, produced a son, and infused him with García Márquez's sense of the absurd? No? Don't bother, his name's Joshua Mohr and he'll table-dance for you at the bargain price of $16 (less if you don't mind doing business with soulless dream-killing conglomerates).
I hated Rabbit Angstrom because I felt too close to being him. I envied Falconer because I wanted to be more like him. Bob Coffen, in this book? I'd've pantsed him at every opportunity. Treated him as his noxiously virile, annoyingly macho neighbor Schumann treats him. Can't help it, doughy indeterminate blobs make me itchy under the balls and I need to victimize them. I'm a guy, sue me.
So why would I read a book told from his PoV, and give it more than a single grudging star? Well, back up there at the top of my review, I mentioned García Márquez. There's magic in here that I can't resist, there's an absurd brio to Bob's cluelessness and amorphousness, that calls to a corner of my sense of humor. It's the same corner where my ill-tempered glee at the plights of the characters in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie lives. In fact, this is much like a Buñuel script made for HBO. Softer edges, more marshmallowy feel-goodness, but just as many quirked eyebrows and cut eyes. Bjorn the illusionist/marriage counselor is proof enough of that, but add in Bjorn's penchant for, well, punitive mesmerism (poor Schumann!) and his multiply unfaithful pansexual wife....
Okay, all that sounds like a rave. Why not four stars? Because I detest Bob's bologna-on-Wonder-bread acceptance of his grim ball-busting wife's Rightness and her power to determine what it is he should be. I am no supporter of heterosexual marriage, not a shock to regular readers. It's a giant mistake to pin your hopes for happiness on a being of a different species from your own. But to supinely accept her authority, as he does from beginning to end, goes against every single fiber in my being, whether in fiction or in fact. There goes a half-star. Another half-star for the workplace scenes, which I found tedious in the extreme and so far as I could tell made no difference to the plot. The last quarter comes off because the ending, while amusing, while magical, did nothing to resolve the basic conflict of Bob versus "Robert," the created, foisted-on-him identities from work or wife.
Those are my issues, then, one strictly personal and two rooted in the author's choices within the text. But on balance, unless there is some gigantic rock of resistance in you to the underdog-finds-happiness story, this telling of it will repay your eyeblinks.