I loved the first book in Jonathan Stroud?s Bartimaeus trilogy,…
I’m glad I didn’t.
It was evident early on that Novak has a cerebral, witty take on absurdism, but at first, his writing came across as a little indulgent. In “Dark Matter,” for instance, about the interaction between a museum visitor and a physicist, it felt like Novak was telling a joke only really, really smart people could understand. It seemed as though he was laughing, but laughing alone.
It wasn’t until I got further into the collection that Novak’s ability to handle poignant situations and uniquely portray particularly modern aspects of life became more evident.
I particularly liked “All You Have To Do” and its companion piece, “Grocery spill at 21st and 6th: 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.” In the first, a cheerful but actively single (young?) man describes how he always wears a red T-shirt so that there’s an obvious identifier in case anyone writes a Craigslist “Missed Connections” posting about him. Several stories later, and without too much of an obvious announcement of a connection, we read an account (from a woman?) of meeting someone and having a great time, but parting without exchanging numbers. Eventually, we realize it’s a “Missed Connections” posting looking for someone who was wearing a red t-shirt. Novak writes these two stories in different voices, so it feels like we’re meeting two very different people. The longing each seems to have to find a companion is evident, but not blatant. The overall effect of the pairing is quite touching.
Other standouts include “The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy” and “They Kept Driving Faster and Outran the Rain.” Readers who pick up the book expecting out-and-out humor (since Novak’s a comedian, after all) will enjoy “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela,” which will make them laugh until it cuts almost a bit too close to home.