18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
First novel by a Columbia MFA grad. Humorous, deft facility with language. A few months in the life of a directionless upper middle class New England Jewish kid a couple of years out of high school. You can envision the novel, right?
Yes and no. This starts out as you would expect. Teen angst, self loathing, drugs, totally directionless life. But self-aware enough to know that he is going nowhere, and well aware that he is miserable. People are always telling him he is funny, and that is also the main positive feature of the book's first part. His self-description? "A defeated-by-gravity stomach. Hair was a bird's nest. I was a wounded, well-fed bird."
It is a pleasure to read the language of this book. The language is well crafted, innovative, and interesting. "People said I was like [Uncle Ned] because he was a f...up [Amazon required ellipse]. Then he died. They stopped saying it." But after awhile I feared that the book was going nowhere. That the lively language wasn't sufficiently compensating for the lack of plot development. No job, lives with mom, watches TV all day, interests limited to scoring women and drugs. Success with the later, not the former. Aimless, drifting, sad. This does not make for a successful life, or book.
But then an incredible thing happens. The plot and the writing subtly change. Plot changes are what you expect in a coming of age novel, and the writer constantly plays with the reader's expectation and hope for this. He provides nineteen possible endings to the life of our narrator and the book. Everything from quick death, pathetic loneliness and drug addiction to various versions of rich, famous, happy. But the book has no sudden changes, no instant resolutions. Because this isn't the life story of the narrator, it is a few months when he is about 20. So what we get are slow, subtle changes. Almost indiscernible. But transforming the psyche of our narrator, and thus his language, his mental state and the events that occur. Tiny changes, but they are there, and the subtlety of these changes, the confidence of this first time novelist that he could successfully tell this story with minute changes in the light, color and timbre of the story is what makes this book a success.
By the end the narrator has lost the protective coating of his smart-ass language and attitude. His self-description is now as "angry but also in pain, s..t-scared [Amazon again], guilty-feeling, confused." He has dropped the facile humor, the witty one-liners.
The book is filled with movie references, all followed by the parenthetical name, studio and year of the film. And the films and TV of his life provide a bigger context for what is going on in his life. A way of grounding his events, or lack of events, in the only context he is comfortable with: film and TV. The first part of the book is so heavy with these references, and so filled with lively but largely meaningless internal banter that I almost gave up on the book, just like everyone gives up on the narrator. But don't.
By the end I had great admiration for the author in the subtle transformation of his narrator and the language of the book. I'm looking forward to where this young author decides to take us, his readers, with his next books.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
In that way, it is brilliant. Wilson captures just how much of a disillusioned young man Eli Schwartz is. Unfortunately, it felt much like the ramblings of an actual early-20s loser that nobody cares to be around, much less read about for 300 pages.
The book also really lost something in the gazillion "possible endings." I think this book could have easily been catapulted from okay to good by slashing those by half or more (they were really, really annoying by the end) and expanding the end of the book. Just as the book begins to transition from Eli being a complete annoyance to someone we start to care about, the book is littered with his daydreams of how his life may turn out. Don't get me wrong, some are vital to the book and understanding Eli, but the sheer number of them was just overkill. Along with the movie references and the lists (although I liked the lists), at times the book even seemed gimmicky. It's a shame too, because the book has so much opportunity to be expanded into something much more engaging.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
When a novel begins with a paraplegic ex-actor waking up a privileged, tumescent 20-something slacker and asking him to score some weed, you know you're about to spend the next 10 hours of your life in a bumper-car ride among the seamier aspects of the American bourgeoisie. Or you are if your guide is an honest writer who begins his first-person narrative with a randy cinéphile promising "guns, drugs, strippers, and other tenets of contemporary suburban life" and then proceeds to give you all that and more for 325 pages. Adam Wilson is an honest writer. FLATSCREEN, his debut novel, is the best kind of bumpy ride --- exhilarating, unpredictable and just a little scary.
This novel won't be for all tastes. It's gritty, vulgar and relentlessly unsentimental. But readers who can take it will be rewarded with vivid descriptions, thoughtful asides, a crackling pace, and a sardonic protagonist who makes Benjamin Braddock, the Dustin Hoffman character from The Graduate, seem focused and self-assured by comparison.
Eli Schwartz has spent so much of his life watching television that cooking programs have turned him into a gourmet chef. As the novel opens, that's the only talent he's willing to use --- that and taking drugs and sleeping with women, from former classmates to their mothers. Eli's parents are long divorced, and his mother, whom he lives with in a suburban Boston mansion, has decided to sell the house and move into a condo. The buyer is Seymour J. Kahn, who doesn't let his confinement to a wheelchair keep him from cheating on his latest wife, partaking of recreational drugs, and enjoying target practice in his new backyard. One of his daughters begins a relationship with Benjy, Eli's older brother, a lawyer-in-training who tries to get Eli to find a job, or at least shower once in a while. But all Eli does is wander the town in his bathrobe, visit old buddies, sell his ill-gotten baseball card collection, and watch Kahn receive lap dances from a thong-clad caregiver.
There's not much plot to FLASTSCREEN. The novel is a series of episodes that show Eli getting into progressively worse situations. His sexual escapades provoke a fistfight at Thanksgiving dinner. He gets caught breaking and entering. The biggest humiliation comes after he accepts Viagra and other pharmaceuticals from Kahn and winds up passed out in the end zone of a local football game with his drug-powered member pointed toward the sky. Video of the incident goes viral on YouTube.
See what I mean by a bumper-car ride?
All of this might have been too much to stomach in the hands of a lesser writer. But Wilson has a gift for relating these episodes in a way that doesn't make you cringe. His narrative style takes getting used to. He often dispenses with subjects. "Picked up my prayer book, thumbed the pages, braided the fringes of my tallis," is typical of his gumshoe-like prose. And not every character is fully developed. I wish I had known more about Kahn; his story would have been stronger if he had been more than the sad wreck depicted here.
But I'm quibbling. It's to Wilson's credit that he was able to take a genre as moth-eaten as the coming-of-age story and infuse it with freshness. Unpredictability works in the novel's favor, too. Just when you think Wilson's knees are going to buckle and he'll lose his nerve and succumb to sweetness and redemption, along comes another devastation to complicate Eli's life. Wilson relates these events in such a way that you never feel despair. You sense at the end that Eli will eventually untangle his knotty life, but you know the task won't be easy, nor are you sure that every knot will yield without a struggle.
On the night that Eli and his mother move their belongings to the condo, Eli remarks upon the lack of illumination on the road. The only light comes from the headlights on his mother's car. "Headlights don't illuminate much," Eli says. "[E]nough to keep us moving safely forward." That's an apt description of life, and, come to think of it, of a good novel. And that's Wilson's achievement here: to shine a light on a life poorly led, with just enough wattage to keep us interested.
Reviewed by Michael Magras
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Over the past year I've read a number of books in which the main character(s) emerge from structure of school into the chaos of the real world and find themselves lost in the shuffle. Most of the time these are post-college novels in which the character discovers that maybe that thing they wanted wasn't what they wanted at all. This is not one of those novels. At the center of Adam Wilson's debut novel is Eli Schwartz, high school graduate, Food Network junkie, recreational drug user. His parents' marriage has fallen apart and he's been living in his mother's basement for a few years while the rest of his friends have gone off to college. Eli's life is without proper form - all of the structure in his life has either expired (school), disintegrated (family), or run dry (money). All that's left for him is getting high and watching tv. It's kind of a slacker-stoner novel.
The beginning of Flatscreen feels like a well-managed exercise in stream-of-consciousness writing. It jumps like a late-90's music video - flashing tangentially related images that all somehow come together in a weird but cohesive vision. Within the first few pages Wilson gives the reader a good taste of what the next 300+ pages will be like - dark, silly, strange, profane, and sad. The rest of the book is presented in short chapters that alternate between traditional and nontraditional storytelling methods. Sometimes these nontraditional sections take the form of lists and later in the novel these sections are the imagined 19 alternate endings to Eli's story.
This is one of those books where I felt indifferent about the story but enjoyed the craft and construction of the novel. The prose is so quick that it sometimes feels more like reporting then your normal run-of-the-mill writing. There's so much to like about the writing that it's a shame that I didn't care all that much about the characters. You want Eli to get sober, find a job and just do something productive, but he's so invested in the self-aware slacker persona that he's crafted for himself that he just can't get off the metaphorical couch. The only people he tries to connect with are damaged by their own tragedies. There's Seymour Kahn, former actor and paraplegic, who acts as a sort of bizarre Buddha with a rifle to Eli. And then there's the tortured Alison Ghee, whose boyfriend recently killed himself and gives Eli just enough attention that that she becomes part of his fantasies.
Flatscreen is interesting because in many ways it seems like a reflection of our current internet-enhanced lives. All of the characters interact, but they never really know each other. Eli sends a sort of love-letter to his never-gonna-happen love interest, Jennifer Estes, but it's not scrawled on lined notebook paper, it's not even an email - it's a Facebook message. Facebook, the land of paper-thin relationships, filled mostly with people you used to know. None of Eli's relationships with non-family members go beyond superficial. Even his family members are kept at arm's length.
I am so different from characters like Eli and the people in his life that I had a really difficult time relating to much of anything in the book. I didn't feel like I had anything invested in whether Eli got his act together or whether anyone actually ended up happy or doing anything productive. The book moves along at a brisk pace and I rolled with it, enjoying the scenery but caring very little about where we ended up. It's clearly a case of the subject matter existing outside of my own personal experience and therefore not really my thing. Yet I know that this is a book that will definitely speak to certain people and they will absolutely love it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Funny and heartfelt and always offensive, Adam Wilson's almost-autobiography is a classic modern coming of age tale about the misguided life of a "loser" in affluent suburbia, and how he begins to change after experiencing everything from drug abuse, random sex, grave injury and losing a loved one. The writing style is always changing, though the voice is constant. I had the great pleasure of meeting Adam and hearing him read a few selections from it myself, and it really brought the story to life. Not for the faint of heart or those easily offended by vulgarity.