Sunday, August 14, 2016

Review: "Flatscreen" by Adam Wilson

As funny as Adam Wilson’s first novel Flatscreen came across, not once while reading it did I think it was any good. It had some sly references to movies, mostly via direct quotes in parenthesis, and some might find its slacker tendencies charming and engaging, it is far from brilliant, and a major step down from his collection of short stories, What’s Important is Feeling. Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of two authors Wilson was seemed to conjure, one I am assuming was on purpose, the other, again, I’m assuming was unintentional. The book is heavy on sex and modern Jewish life, and for me, that immediately brings to mind Philip Roth and characters like Coleman Silk and Mickey Sabbath. But while those men were interesting and well thought out by a master craftsman, Eli Schwartz, our narrator, is not. The other writer that came to mind after the above realization was Chad Kultgen, and his series of overly graphic explorations of detached sexual encounters. Those books can be funny, but I’d argue they are more exploitative than insightful. Unfortunately, this book falls into the latter category while reaching toward the quality of the former. Eli, a loser in his early 20’s, who spends his days pining after women from high school, regaling the reader with sexual trysts that might or might not have happened and watching junk TV, finds his insular world upended when his mom impulsively sells the house. The house is sold to Seymour J. Kahn, a paraplegic ex-actor whose sexual deviancy rivals Eli’s. Some of the characters are memorable, like Benjy, his ugly duckling brother and his pot dealer Dan, who won’t stop quoting Dazed and Confused. But the story is too silly and full of itself, so when a shooting takes places, I met it with boredom instead of shock. This is a rather lukewarm first novel, one that is hopefully forgotten if/when Wilson’s next offering comes out. 

Rating: 2/5

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