11 March 2010

Rough Flight, but a Perfect Landing: James Hynes's novel, Next

First thoughts:

funny, satirical, poignant, maybe a bit too obsessed with sex, somewhat clumsy, but an ending that will not disappoint! 

Next, by The Lecturer's Tale author, James Hynes,  starts off, humorously as noted with a middle aged man by the name of Kevin Quinn touching ground at the airport in Austin (our author's real world home) while musing on the foil-potato-chip-can-likeness of his plane compared to a the potential Sting(er) of a terrorist attack. We quickly learn that the world has been marred by the recent 666 attacks, 6 different European cities have been attacked on June the 6th, and people everywhere (especially the new career seeking Kevin) are a touch nervous.

Next to him on the plane is seated a (much) younger attractive woman who immediately reminds Kevin of loves both current, lost, and never really attained and he fires into a middle aged tail spin, stalking (seriously) about the city of Austin with just some hope of getting nearer to her. For what? He doesn't even know, but she seems like an answer to him.

The story follows his mishaps through the city of Austin and is lovingly sprinkled with doses of great satire about both politics and social phenomena (the latter got some huge laughs out of me and made this book very unRonic worthy). Now as to what exactly Texas has as far as political satire goes...well your guess is as good as mine.

Generally speaking, Mr. Hynes is great with the conventions of fiction; there were no glaringly painful moments of Meyers-like over emotion or over romanticism, in fact, it is appropriate to say that Hynes's writing style is very agreeable and engaging. Next might be a more post-collegiate generation's Catcher in the Rye. It's much sexier than Salinger's classic but contains some of the same themes of searching and coming of age, albeit an older one. I can even see similarities between the two; both boys roam through a somewhat strange city, both spend way too much money on cabs, both chase after petty but pretty women, and both have a certain disdain for the world. A caveat to that association is that Next is nowhere near as evocative as Catcher and the two should really not be confused as being of a similar vein; merely the plots reflect each other's 

As far as creative writing goes there is a great deal in Hynes's style that is worth remembering and "borrowing" as we "writers" are wont to do. However, there are a few stylistic complaints and mostly those fall to some of Hynes's repetition. At times he repeats phrases that would have been better summed up, left out, or at the very least, tied back into their afore-mention on preceding pages. Legal reasons prevent me from directly quoting here, but I will do my best to paraphrase. At one instance in the novel Hynes points out that Kevin is strolling through an area of old warehouses that have been transformed into trendy bars, later, walking back down the same street, Hynes reminds us that Kevin is walking by old warehouses that have been transformed into trendy bars as opposed to just saying that Kevin is walking by those same warehouse/bars he passed earlier.This handling of words is a bit uncoordinated and really detracts from the novel at many points where the rest of the text is particularly engaging. It's more a case of frustrating deja vu than harmonious, lyrical repetition. 

But, Hynes is a master of description throughout the novel and set the scene and the climate very well. The metaphoric implications of temperature, light, sweat, and all the other tactile details of a Texas summer day are very vivid and lend themselves extremely well to the decidedly "tense" feel of the whole novel. Hynes deserves much applause for his handling of environment and detail. 

Next's ending is really what the novel should be read for. While it doesn't entirely make up for a few of the shortcomings of the proceeding pages, it is certainly something worth the reader's time. Just remember, the page numbers don't always mean it's nearly over.

So overall, Next is an "OK" novel (actually it's a Texas novel but...). Among dissapointments in some word choices throughout the book which were terrbily distracting, the characters were a bit flat with the leading male being a bit too sexually frustrated/compelled/focused/obsessed and many of the women altogether too perfect. The details Hynes chose to include were very fitting and appropriate and there should be no arguement that he knows how to paint a great verbal picture. The majority of the pages pass a bit slowly, but the ending really stitches everything together in a unique and endearing way.

Give Next if you have the time, but I wouldn't go crazy for this one.

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