With a protagonist who can’t win if he does play and a solid grasp of the difference between knowing there is more and knowing how to get it, Schuelke creates a USA where coasting through mediocrity might be the least worst option.
Dividing his time between entry-level work at a linen service, Community College, and a veneer of a social life, Floyd Spicer would be depressed if he weren’t too apathetic to bother. Set during the last weeks of October and the first weeks of November, this book reveals one, very bleak, perspective on what it means to be young in Michigan, USA, in the Twenty-First Century.
Apart from dialogue, this novella is written almost entirely in single sentence paragraphs; often beginning either [Name][Verbed] or [Prounoun][Verbed]. Mirroring the clipped style of text messages and IM chats, this creates as sense of raw youthfulness. To some readers, the repetition might quickly lead to boredom and a feeling the book is unpolished; to others, the lack of variation offers one more sense of the tedium of Floyd’s life.
This, potentially divisive, issue of style aside, Schuelke creates an engaging portrait of life for an average teen: neither an intellectual nor an athlete, neither a rebel nor a conformist, his protagonist shuttles between the stations of his life with few opportunities to better himself and no support mechanism to help him if one does present itself.
Floyd is an interesting protagonist, somehow both apathetic and sympathetic. Unlike the heroes of most books, he does not overcome challenges to grasp a prize or fail because of some grand trait, but rather expends his energy almost as an instinctive response to immediate challenge then sinks back into passivity. Yet this lack of achievement does not rob him of interest: the inexorable weight of a society that treats the unexceptional as interchangeable combined with the intense emotional confusion that afflicts the teenage mind recast Floyd’s obstacles as beyond the mundane. Half-slacker, half-Kafkaesque victim, his lack of engagement becomes the image of the American Dream’s excluded middle.
Seen through the distorting eye of Floyd’s narration, the supporting cast are equally symbols more than nuanced actors: the many courses he takes at college are portrayed by a single teacher who berates him both for failing and for seeking her support; his family appear as masks, a father who offers only demands and threats of disaster, a brother who appears only to insult or obstruct Floyd; even Floyd’s friends and acquaintances are the stock figures of high-school drama, the boy who hates him because of a single disagreement, the girlfriend who suddenly dumps him without telling him why.
As with the use of language, this portrayal of a mundane teenage life will divide readers: those who believe effort is always rewarded are likely to become frustrated by Floyd’s lack of application; those who wonder if the game might be rigged from the start will find an engaging perspective on what it’s like to be ordinary.
Overall, I enjoyed this novella. I recommend it to readers seeking an insight into how the fallout from the American Dream afflicts the unexceptional.
I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.