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Current Reads

Day in the Life

James Hynes's hilarious new novel, Next, is a day in the life of an everyman.

Book Cover James Hynes (Kings of Infinite Space) is another on a long list of novelists who I have been meaning to read based on excellent and well-rendered notices and a scanning of his occasional journalism. Which give good evidence of a keen intelligence, bristling originality, and a mordant (the best kind) sense of humor.

I have rectified this gap in my au currantness with his new title, Next (Little, Brown), which continues his skein of well-received work and confirms what I was predisposed to believe.

Next (the title gives nothing away, though ultimately, or should I say finally, it makes perfect sense?) brings Kevin Quinn, a quasi-academic (he is in publishing), 50 years old, from Ann Arbor to Austin, Tx. (“kind of a Southern-fried Ann Arbor, an Ann Arbor with bigger portions”) for a job interview, in search of a new job. The story’s action all takes place in one day, and we are treated to Quinn’s manifold anxieties beginning with terrorist attacks and wondering about Stella, his young girlfriend, who regularly jibes him about his age (“Chicks dig a guy with a senior discount”). And, of course, worrying about worrying: “Am I the only one who worries about stuff like this? Or does everybody, these days?”

Kevin becomes affixed to Kelly, his flight’s lovely Asian seatmate, and (being early for his interview) follows (stalks) her—which gives him the opportunity to exhume various episodes from his past, most prominently his “depressing Ice Storm boyhood.” Which he mordantly describes as his girlfriend’s “theme park.” And his side trip—still on Kelly’s trail—to one of those contemporary Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s-type emporiums allows for a hysterically funny (inner) harangue.

None of which really prepares you for the ending James Hynes has devised—or maybe the signs were there and their subtlety escaped me. No matter, the finale doesn’t depend on surprise for its potency. Both Kevin’s journey and his destination are an ample payoff.
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