This next (ok, here we go already!) book prompted some fun... turning into a bit of "Who's On First?". What's are you going to read next? Next. Yes, your next book. Next. Ha! And even, after I was finished. What are you going to read next? I just finished it. Ha! Ok, so I am easily amused and as you see to your left my ... wait for it... next book is Next by James Hynes.
I'll try not to be too repetitive here, but I have been following The Morning News' Tournament of Books for a couple of years now. It is a mini-literary March Madness where 16 book are put in brackets with books advancing, sometimes pretty arbitrarily, by one judge's opinion (until the final, where everybody chimes in). Each year, I discover at least one new book and this year it was this one... as I never even was aware of the author, let alone this particular title (which, if I do say so myself, I find pretty surprising). It sounded pretty intriguing and after finishing A Visit From The Goon Squad (which -- headscratchingly to me -- took down Freedom in the ToB final) fast-tracked Next to my (ok, this is getting old) next book. I finished it just in time for its semifinal match-up where -- again a bit headscratchingly to me -- lost to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Yes, you see I have my disagreements with the ToB but it's still fascinating to hear everyone's opinions... that's why I would still encourage folks if a book is on your radar and I write a so-so review of it, you still read it. It's almost more fun to disagree, tho granted nothing beats sharing a great book.
Okay, onto the book! With just knowing enough about the book to try it, and having already started it (and liking it thus far) I got slightly worried when I went over to GoodReads to log it in as "currently reading" to see that it has so-so ratings -- an overall rating of 3.32, which to put that in some perspective, puts it near the very bottom of all the books I had logged onto the site (about 150 of them). But it didn't take me too much further into the book to figure out why the ratings were all over the place.
The book is a "day in the life" of Kevin Quinn, a 50-year editor from Michigan, on a day trip to Austin, Texas for a job interview. It's a white male mid-life crisis book and if you have ever questioned the statistic that men think of sex dozens of times a day, Kevin will do nothing to dispel it (if anything, he may have skewed the numbers upward). While the action takes place over 8 hours or so, we extensively learn of Kevin's past through flashbacks. A lot of flashbacks! Flashbacks that detour the current action, even between one exchange of dialogue, for pages upon pages at a time. I likened it to "Lost" episodes, when you'd really be interested in something on the island only to be sucked away to another place a time. And lastly, Kevin rambles on quite a bit about everything from pop culture (a Cirque du Soleil rant was classic!), corporate retail giants, university workplace politics, living in a post-9/11 world (the opening sequence about flying and airports is particularly sharp), etc., etc.
So... a quite self-absorbed, bumbling middle-aged man fixated on sex, constantly flashing back, in a stream of consciousness style... well, there is a lot to potentially drive readers crazy here. In particular, I wondered that about female readers. It was "male" book -- macho, yet highly insecure -- and while I would guess there would be some interest/insight into getting into the mind of a man, I really wonder how much a female reader could take, ha!
Despite all these potential hurdles, I have to say I found it all to be quite good. Now, I did experience the occasional fatigue with the unrelenting flashbacks, but found they always served a purpose in fleshing out Kevin and/or give the reader new information/insight. If anything Hynes lulls the reader in with these flashbacks and the overall action in the present day, which often is quite pedestrian / ordinary, to create some real page-turning tension in the novel's third act. Zipping my lip, but the book has a good title (though it's open to so much interpretation... tho I'm guessing a lot of books could pretty effectively be titled "Next" ).
While not a book for everyone, I was really glad to have stumbled onto this one and while it's still early in the year, near the top of the list and one I imagine that will still stick with me come December.