Nextby James Hynes Published 09 Mar 2010
|Publisher||Reagan Arthur Books|
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One Man, one day, and a novel bursting with drama, comedy, and humanity.
Kevin Quinn is a standard-variety American male: middle-aged, liberal-leaning, self-centered, emotionally damaged, generally determined to avoid both pain and responsibility. As his relationship with his girlfriend approaches a turning point, and his career seems increasingly pointless, he decides to secretly fly to a job interview in Austin, Texas. Aboard the plane, Kevin is simultaneously attracted to the young woman in the seat next to him and panicked by a new wave of terrorism in Europe and the UK. He lands safely with neuroses intact and full of hope that the job, the expansive city, and the girl from the plane might yet be his chance for reinvention. His next eight hours make up this novel, a tour-de-force of mordant humor, brilliant observation, and page-turning storytelling.
This book was so well reviewed on a readers advisory blog I read that I thought it would be among my new favorites. Hate may not be too strong a word to describe my feelings about this book. Yes, I get the idea--middle-aged, angst-ridden male living in post 9/11 U.S. searches for meaning, usually trying to find it in the eyes of someone 25 years his junior. Blah, blah, blah. This character annoyed me so much. Read Joe Tropper instead. At his male characters have some self awarenesss and senses of humor.
As far as reviews go, this book went from 2 stars to 4 stars in the last 50 pages, which only proves(much to my chagrin) that you shouldn't ever abandon a book. This book really kicked me on my ass and is another one outside of my typical comfort zone. I have no problem reading books with male protagonists. Sometimes I think its like seeing inside a male mind, which will always be fascinating to a girl with no brothers or boyfriends in sight. But Kevin is no ordinary man. Or at least I hope so, for the sake of humanity. After reading Franzen, I didn't think characters could get anymore self absorded, but then I was introduced to Kevin, the main character in Next. The guy would seriously not shut up. One minute he's afraid of dieing in a terrorist attack, the next minute he's fantasizing and literally chasing after women he sees on the way to an interview, even though he is in a seemingly great relationship with his sort of girlfriend. The guy was never happy, always looking for the next best thing (Ha, I think I just figured out the title!). At first I felt bad about what happened in the end, and it sort of erased my disgust for Kevin. But now I'm not so sure. What's so great about someone if they only realize they are an asshole while they are near death? Anyways, aside from the story, I do think James Hynes can write. If he's all about visceral endings, I'm not sure my emotions can handle anymore of his books, but I do understand why this was picked to be in the Tournament of Books. People in other reviews likened him to Woolf or Joyce for his modern day stream of consciousness writing. A lofty compliment for sure, but he's definitly provides something new and unusual to the contempory writers pool.
The concluding 30 pages redeemed the book, but only to a degree. The nude model of Mrs Dalloway bothered me. The arc's return was deft and I didn't expect that.
Next should've had an enormous impact. Stray meteors in the tundra turn more dirt than this. It did garner the best novel from The Believer.
I suppose the dodge heralds an auspice.
I don't know if I regret reading this book or not. The first two thirds follows this creepy man as he stalks a woman less than half his age around Austin and replays in his mind all the sex he's had with other women throughout his life. At one point he compares the blow jobs of different women. Literally every girl he sees there is a gratuitous description of her body. I almost gave up before I finished part one. Then part two was almost as bad and I wanted to scream.
I assume you're supposed to empathize with this skeeveball because he's not intentionally a skeeveball, but just unwilling to accept that he's middle aged and hot little things don't want to fuck him anymore. But I guess I just don't have it in me. So when I get to the third part, I am almost hoping for something bad to happen to him.
*** small spoiler alert ***
Yet when something bad finally does happen to him I feel bad. So I guess the moral of the story is there are some things that are so bad I wouldn't even wish them on a stalker skeeveball.
And I hate that the author tried to play on 9-11 fears. Such a cheap shot... Especially because he did it with no nuance whatsoever. His beating the readers over the head with it makes the whole 3rd part seem overdone and corny.
remember when hunter s thompson explained why he wrote 'fear and loathing', the time he was in la and the shit was going down in the street, and he was sitting in a bar having a drink and talk with his chicano lawyer friend about what was going on and how could people possibly change the horrible situation in usa and world? and then the riot cop burst in and shot the lawyer in the head with a rifle.
yuo can read that here Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Other American Stories
this novel of hynes's is sort of like that. the part where you realize there are lots of people with rifles and they will use them (hynes does seem to forget that most of those 'riflemen' are white cops or white ex military here in good ole usa) and the best defense is hedonism. hedon in glittering streets of austin tx
With his weird and wicked academic satires -- "Publish and Perish," "The Lecturer's Tale" -- James Hynes captured the fetid anxiety of university life, but now he's graduated to the pervasive fear that defines our age. In the very first sentence of this new novel, Kevin Quinn works himself into a panic by imagining a Stinger missile hitting his plane as he lands in Austin. "Am I the only one who worries about stuff like this?" Kevin wonders. "Or does everybody, these days?" That missile doesn't strike, of course -- it's just nerves -- but what follows is the most original and poignant story I've read about living under the shadow of random acts of terror.
"Next" shouldn't work at all, let alone succeed as it does. It's a plotless, desultory novel about a commitment-phobic man walking along the hot streets of Austin as he waits for a job interview. Only two months have passed since the publication of another novel about a wandering man: Joshua Ferris's dreary, though elegantly written "Unnamed," but "Next" is a more cathartic journey. Hynes knows exactly where he's going with this story, and his compulsive patter is witty and alluring enough to keep us running alongside Kevin. Soon enough, it's obvious that what looks like a lonely guy just marking time is really a man engaged in a moving, brilliantly composed act of introspection.
At 50, Kevin hasn't so much matured as learned how to simulate maturity. He's horny enough to regard every woman he sees as a potential sexual partner, but "his default liberal guilt and his midwestern decency jerk him short like a leash." He associates all the significant moments of his life with particular songs and failed relationships, like some Nick Hornby wannabe. "He's an underachiever in every way he can imagine," Hynes writes, "professionally, personally, financially." Wandering around this strange town, "almost nauseous with melancholy," he considers that he has "no kids, no career, really, no overriding passion in his life, and an ex-girlfriend who at long last heaved him over the side to have children with a [younger] man."
In the fluid riff of cultural commentary, funny quips and rueful memories that constitute most of this novel, we learn that Kevin is running away from his new girlfriend and an editing job he loathes at a university press in Ann Arbor. He knows no one in Texas and has told no one back home that he's here for the interview -- all part of the exciting fantasy of a clean break, the promise of a new beginning. "It's not a real choice so much as it's a choice between two equally risible clichés: Count Your Blessings, or Follow Your Dreams," Hynes writes in a voice that captures Kevin's own ironic derision. "Look it up (\mid-lif kri-ses\ n) and find a line drawing of Kevin Quinn in a sporty little convertible, with his perky young -- well, younger -- girlfriend beside him, her hair loose in the breeze. See MIDDLE-AGED MAN."
This strange story is always on the go, even though its real motion is entirely internal. Instead of preparing for his job interview, Kevin spends the hours before the appointment channeling "his inner nineteen-year-old," stalking a young woman he saw on the plane -- aroused by "the mild thrill of his own shamelessness." He has no idea what he'd say if he actually made contact with her -- "What am I going to do, strike up a conversation with her like some drunken Shriner?" -- but she reminds him of past girlfriends who got away, and that inspires a free association of sexual nostalgia and humiliation, swinging wildly from inane optimism to crushing self-doubt.
All this wandering and middle-aged ogling takes place against a background of fresh terrorist acts in Europe. On the television and radio, reports are still pouring in about a set of coordinated suicide bombings. Hynes weaves these atrocities into the background of Kevin's regrets. It's a dark symphony of gallows humor, the fatalism and self-absorption that run through our distracted lives nowadays. "After the Fall of the Wall and the Fall of the Two Towers and the Fall of Kevin's Fiftieth Birthday," he really has no idea how to live -- how to stop running and shirking and avoiding. "He wishes he were a Republican," Hynes writes, "full of absolute certainty and righteous, tribal wrath."
Believing in nothing, Kevin finds the terrorists' passion as fascinating as it is frightening. But before the story reaches its devastating conclusion, he'll be given a chance to reassess himself. Hang on tight: The novel's mournful overtones rise slowly but firmly in that amazing voice -- jocular and honest, clear-eyed and tragic, always winning. By the time you notice "Next" picking up speed, it's rushing along so fast you'll be completely defenseless when it rips your heart right out.