Arse Amatoria

glover You have to hand it to Nick Laird for making that awkward, usually destined-to-be-savaged-by-the-critics second novel a novel that does its own fair share of savaging, along with just about everything else, a critic.  And for writing a second novel that happens to be good.

Blogger and English teacher David Pinner is already one deeply cynical critic.  Then he falls for his former art teacher, Ruth Marks, working in London as a visiting artist, and she in turn falls for Pinner’s flat-mate James Glover, a fit, churchgoing, classic ingénue,many years her junior. Cynicism turns to vitriol turns to action—old-school Iago-style action.  Pinner makes not just a few despicable moves, all while managing to be kind of loveable.  Who among us, after all, doesn’t want to be loved?   So there you are, sympathizing with the villain, which begins to make the divide between right and wrong weave all over the place.  Am I rooting for the bad guy?   Just when you’re ready to pitch the book across the room with a mixture of self-loathing and revulsion, BANG, some hair trigger springs and you’re stuck, this book clamped firmly to your hand. Perhaps it’s that Pinner’s no cardboard cutout protagonist (or, more accurately, antagonist?), or that Laird’s prose is lively and dense, or that I’m just gullible, but whatever the case, there I am, this book inexplicably stuck to my hand, riveted as Pinner watches aghast as their relationship fledges and floats on an updraft of hormonally-induced euphoria leaving him pinioned on a spike of jealousy.  What recourse but to vent in his blog posts?

In her review on Salon, Laura Miller points out that the first couple of chapters resemble an early Hugh Grant movie, and this couldn’t be more correct…  caste Julia Roberts in your mind’s eye in the role of Ruth, and this initial cutesiness quickly nauseates until you realize that Laird is working on your sensibilities, slapping them around and kneading them to make them doughier and more elastic.

Love of the lexicon peppers Pinner’s on- and offline commentary on his frenemies’ antics, on contemporary art and culture, on the personal shortcomings of which he is all too brutally self-aware.  Between these latter two aspects of his internal monologue he develops a theme that attempts to make sense of his own, and many modern persons’ sad-sack situation: Loneliness.  Deceptions riddle Pinner’s real life, and having an online personality, as both an additional untruth and an escape mechanism, doesn’t help.  Adrift on the miasmic human tides of London, surrounded by failed and floundering human relationships, Pinner gives voice to a terrifyingly nihilistic and honest vision: if we are just a bunch of randomly organized molecules, adrift in the void, and Truth has gone into the blender and been reduced to a brownish puree of subjectivity, then it isn’t just God who’s dead. Love is dead.  Isn’t it?  Serious as this sounds, it’s not.  Cover-to-cover, Glover’s Mistake packs wry comedy the way a can of Chock-full-o’-nuts packs, if not actual nuts, caffeinated medium-roasted flavor—or rather, “flavour”.

–Ed Scripsi

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Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  

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