Kids These Days takes a walk on the wild side
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Sometimes you buy a book for all the right reasons. Maybe you’re in a curious mood and want to give a new author a chance to hold your attention. Maybe all the right marketing tactics have fallen in place and that curiosity is driving you each time you see the perfectly crafted book cover, lovingly displayed out front of the bookstore, or underneath the large poster in the window next to the door.
And if that book cover is a loud canary yellow then it’s well nigh impossible to avoid seeing it when you turn around from the coffee bar with your fresh cup and look for something interesting.
And so it was with my purchase of the much talked about sophomore novel from Elon writing professor, Drew Perry, a graduate of the esteemed Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at UNC Greensboro.
Kids These Days is Perry’s second novel, following the highly acclaimed This is Just Exactly Like You.
The novel tracks the plight of Walter and Alice, a mid-30s couple facing the birth of their first child just after Walter becomes a victim of the vagaries of staffing levels in the Charlotte banking scene. The localized set up held my interest, my brother has lived it as a mortgage banker in the Queen City, but that’s where my interest waned. Circumstantial convenience, depthless characters and trite dialogue plague the narrative, which is unfortunate given the crisp nature of the prose itself.
From the opening pages the convenience is just too much. Alice’s aunt has just died and left an oceanfront condo in Florida that the couple is free to occupy. They pack their belongings and are off to sunny Florida, where, as fate would have it, Alice’s sister lives with her family. The sister’s husband has lovingly agreed to give Walter a job.
How convenient! Perry deftly mixes in no shortage of thematic material ripped from current events. From the housing bubble, to the vacuity of certain elements of evangelical outreach, to the robotic atmosphere of modern medical practice in the age of Obamacare, the novel plugs in loads of accessible material.
But it’s the supposed meat and bones of the plot that falls short. Perry attempts to construct a plot based on criminal enterprise, yet fails to deliver the specifics. The brother-in-law, named Mid (short for his last name, Middleton), really doesn’t have a job for Walter. The two end up riding around in a yellow Camaro from one hair-brained side business to the next. Mid gives Walter $30,000 out of the air. Mid says it’s for checking in on his ice dispensers and the kayak rental and the whatever other Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana Standlike enterprise he has on the go.
The development falls flat and hampers the rest of the novel’s milieu.
What carried me through to the end was, in part, the desire to give it a chance, given its relevance locally and the heavy-hitting plugs on the front cover, which include Dave Barry, Tim O’Brien and Kevin Wilson. The other factor that prevented me from giving up on the book was that it is, indeed, well crafted at the sentence level. The prose is 100 percent fat free, and for that Perry deserves praise.
But in a larger sense the novel came across as if it was geared toward a Hollywood pickup. The undefined characters could be populated by any number of actors. The repeated imagery tailor made for an opening or closing shot.
As an exercise in staying on the surface, of hinting at the tension of expectant fatherhood, Perry hits the mark.
Perhaps I wanted more depth, more probing of the darkness hinted at.
In the end, it was well structured and had all the right symbolism, metaphors and imagery one would expect. The interconnectedness of characters and circumstances was handled well. The closing scene was very well written and gave me a sense of artistic experience.
Had the book been written with such care throughout it would have been more engaging. !
Kids These Days (320 pages) is published by Algonquin Books and is available at local bookstores or online. Visit www.drewperry.net for more information.