I’m a big fan of James Hynes. He blends a lot of different themes to create what’s almost a brand-new genre, but they’re close enough to horror that I feel like I can just have fun reading, while they’re so well-written that I feel like I’m reading serious literature. With Publish and Perish and The Lecturer’s Tale, he crafted some subtle, atmospheric horror stories that made me almost giddy to read them. He veered a little out of his normal subject area with Kings of Infinite Space, but still managed to capture a subtly eerie feeling with the story, and I ate that one up about as quickly as I did the others. So I was thrilled to see that he had a new book out, even if I am a little late getting around to it.
Next is an odd book, not just because it’s a completely non-horror, non-genre novel. It reads like one of his other books — it has the same wonderful language and descriptions, and the main character is similar in many ways to the others — but I was disappointed to find a character-driven mainstream novel instead of an artful horror story. It was still compelling and interesting, but I found myself having a hard time caring a whole lot about the main character. And if you can’t care about the main character in a character-driven novel, then what’s left?
The main character, Kevin Quinn, is a bit of a loser, adrift in life and content with just getting by instead of making something of himself. This same kind of character was in Hynes’ previous two novels, and while I found myself caring less about them, as well, they were staged in the center of a larger, more portentous storyline that kept me guessing, and kept me entertained. Plus, in those novels, the characters were as much victims of circumstance as they were of not having a proper drive, which at least created some sympathy for them. In Next, that’s all missing, because the main character’s only apparent drive is to go after women much younger than he. In fact, the only thing that kept me guessing in this novel was when I asked, When is this guy going to give up on chasing an unattainable woman and get on with his real life?
The story is oddly compelling, considering that very little happens over the course of the book. The novel only covers about 4-5 hours of Kevin’s life, but through flashbacks, we learn about almost all of his adult life. The events paint a portrait of an immature man, since his memories are revealed in context with the women he’s had relationships with during that time. They define him, and that definition actually lays the groundwork for why he’s pursuing random women in Austin. He’s ready for a change in his life, and while he’s in Austin for a job interview, he’s also thinking about breaking up with the woman he’s currently with, as well. The women serve as a reflection on him and his mental state, and that ultimately becomes the theme of the book.
Did I like the book? I think so. Would I recommend it? It’s hard to say. If the summary and my comments above don’t turn you off from the book, I think it’s worth reading. It’s just an unexpected sort of story, especially given the kinds of stories Hynes has written before this one.