Zeitgeisty, that’s what this book is. First of all, it’s a novel, but it’s short. Second of all, it’s about hitting your mid-thirties and your self-regard getting squashed in between friends climbing the career ladder, friends climbing the property ladder, friends’ weddings and little babies. And although there was probably a conscious choice involved in foregoing to do all these things, an overwhelming sense of under-achievement creeps in.
This book is written by such a man. His job is resolutely a dead-end job. He has to drive down motorways and take every single exit, up and down all the streets with a little device on his car capturing the geography for a google earth type project, except it’s not even google earth, it’s some knock-off of that, by a lesser known company.
Getting the right or wrong exit on the highway is a well-established trope of literary fiction, symbolic of life’s good and bad paths, like the fork in the way, or the crossroads. But that’s not what this is. This is not about a choice between good and bad, this is about systematically going in an endless loop. It says it all about the mid-thirties angst: here’s someone taking every exit, going back on the highway every time, off and on, mapping a part of the world that has already been mapped. As he’s busy driving in info for a cheap copy of the map, the foul aftertaste of greasy diner meals and low-budget motel rooms only heightens the sense of un-adventure. The book cunningly offers this dizzy sense of life without direction, despite an over-abundance of information, despite the presence of many people from the same generation who seem to function really well in the machine, despite there not really being a problem.
Even the stopover in New York City is utterly devoid of glamour. This is what really impressed me about this book. It doesn’t do cheesy, exalted, or grandiose, or elevates the writer and artist into a higher realm. There’s a fair share of sex, good and bad, in this book. We hear about various strands of love stories that broke off, emotional attachments that didn’t materialize, and friendships that could have been more, but aren’t.
Our protagonist is miles away from his home in Nashville when he gets a call from his flatmate to say that they are being evicted as the landlord wants to re-develop the building in light of the recent gentrification developments in the neighbourhood. He drives back and has a lovely organic burger in the new organic burger restaurant, the telltale sign that the area is going the way of loft developments, media types, and vegan bakeries
Matching the anodyne reality this book portrays, the novel’s short length itself is a device that enacts the effect of being insubstantial, understated, and sandwiched in between all kinds of fabulous people doing far more exciting things. That’s what I found so wonderful about it: it lifts out of darkness a feeling many of us know and dread, but never articulate. Hurrah! Mid-thirties angst.
Find it on Amazon here.
Review by Polly Trope.
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.