9780316051927Next is James Hynes’ tale of poor Kevin, a man with in the throes of one of the most gargantuan middle-aged crises in literary history. He’s flown from Ann Arbor to Austin for a job interview. He’s told no one about his one-day excursion, not even his live-in lover, who has been bothering him for children–an issue he’s struggled with with other women in the past.

And speaking of women in his past, nearly the whole narrative is devoted to flashbacks about women in his past and his rather pedestrian sexual adventures. That is, when it’s not devoted to fantasies about women of his present or future. In fact, through all his misadventures in this one day of wandering the streets of Austin, trying to adjust and/or imagine himself taking this new job, the interview for which always seems hours away. Most of his misadventures occur because he’s following/stalking a girl he met on the plane. A girl half his age.

The thing about Kevin is, he’s not only middle-aged, but in the middle of arrested sexual development. He can’t go ten steps or ten minutes without indulging in some sort of adolescent sexual fantasy. It’s the be-all of his existence, as if his penis is the needle on a compass that guides every mile of his navigation through his life.

A protagonist of this sort, dear readers, is not sufficient to carry a novel of any consequence. We are inside Kevin’s head from beginning to end, and it quickly becomes a rather boring place to be. Hynes has some pretty nifty language here and there:

The three of them . . . are drawn together as if by a seine, the yes of the two men tracking the dogfight bustle of the woman’s silken backside.


I suppose it would be picky to mention that the above passage is a rather awkward pov shift from Kevin’s to Hynes as omniscient narrator, but never mind. The language is not enough to carry the day. The most (only?) interesting sequences happen when Kevin interacts with others, such as the doctor who helps him out after a rather comical accident. But even these episodes are ruined by extensive reminiscences that distract from the action at hand.

Anyhow, the result of all this meandering through Austin, which mainly consists of wandering through Kevin’s adolescent fantasies, is that when we get to the truly exceptional ending (I’ve never read anything like it.), it reads more like a gimmick than the truly gut-wrenching experience it should be, and which I’m sure Hynes intended to be, and which has impressed some reviewers. Sorry, though, not this one.


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