New novel alert.
Travels & Travails Of Small Minds will be released on October 15th through Ardent Press.
Anyone who is a fan of Condominium will flip over this one. It has all the elements of the debut (NYC culture satire, cartoonish decadence, razor dialogue, slapstick slacker characters) but is far more ambitions in its scope and execution. As a matter of fact, it is an international crime caper. The novel is a wild and borderline surreal tale which follows the sideways trajectory of an unwilling career temp worker stuck in the most nowhere of nowhere jobs. Nathan spends many a hungover morning and afternoon fetching coffee for his delusional slumlord boss in a dust-choked office on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Between gossiping with his lone co-worker in their dangerously untidy office, attempting to calm a drug-addled friend terrified of the internet, and dealing with a jealousy-ridden girlfriend, Nathan stumbles headfirst into a clumsy property scam which finds him unknowingly at the center. With a cast of characters including a dead beatnik legend, an eccentric and pompous collector of the beatnik’s works, a new love interest in the form of a tenant with unclear intentions, and a network of sociopathic former literature professors, a saga unfolds over eight days in August which sends Nathan careening through lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, the suburbs of England, and Beyond in a swirl of comedic intrigue.
- An irreverent Goldfinch
- Bret Easton Ellis with a faith in humanity
- J.G. Ballard with a sense of humor
- William S. Burroughs in a jaunty mood
- A Jonathan Latimer noir mystery gone severely off the rails
- Robert Ludlum stuck with a non-heroic, slacker protagonist
- Updike after an operation which removed all heavy-handed cultural musings
More release info on the horizon. Thanks to Ardent for unleashing this madness.
Always happy to submerge expectations.
Raging Biblio review here. Or read it all below:
The Short Version: Charles and Sarah, a present-day yuppie couple, have just bought a condo in Williamsburg, right on the water. It should be the perfect next step in their relationship and their lives… but what seems perfect quickly begins to destabilize the not-so-perfect couple. Will their new place break them? Or will they retain their individuality even in the face of a midlife crisis?
The Review: Expectations are a silly thing. If we work hard, we’re taught, we can expect to be rewarded. And we expect that, with those rewards, we will find greater happiness. Or we expect that our neighbors will fulfill the terms of the lease they signed when moving in – which might include things like not being obnoxiously loud at 3am, not doing drugs in public, not renovating the apartment without consent. And then there are the expectations that come from, say, cover and jacket copy of a book or the blurb and trailer of a movie – things that cause us to imagine that the plot and environs of a tale based on very little at all, and leading to expect something we’re never actually going to get.
So it was with Condominium. The cover and the title alone conjured images of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, a novel whose horrors are still rather present in my memory – and the jacket copy seemed to imply something crossed between that novel and the slightly-silly-but-still-totally-spooky Horrorstör. But while I do think Falatko is conscious of Ballard’s inspiration on this book, he’s not trying to write an update or even an homage. And he’s not actually writing a horror novel, despite the trappings in the early going. Instead, he’s interested in the terror of adulthood, of gentrification, and of the very real impact these things have on our mortal souls. All scary in its own right – just not the sort of thing that gets shelved in the horror section, you know?
Charles and Sarah, the couple who’ve just bought this condo, are a pretty ordinary sort of couple, for the most part. He’s a finance bro, she’s a bored assistant at a super-boutique indie press. They’re thinking about marriage but not really, yet. They’ve been together for a while now and the thing that’s getting to the both of them is the fact that their adventurous youth seems gone, now. Perhaps it was the purchase of the condo itself, a seven-figure investment that comes complete with views of the city, gleaming kitchen, hardwood floors, high ceilings, and all the mod cons. As someone who recently moved (renting, admittedly) into a new apartment in a new neighborhood, I understand how a new place can alter your perception of yourself – we very nearly avoided moving into a place that was way fancier than we felt we “ought” to be living in at this point in our lives, because we worried that it would alter our sense of being too much. So as I watched Sarah and Charles start to crack under the unexpected pressure of this beautiful new apartment that neither of them seemed to feel they deserved, I understood what was going on and what Falatko was aiming for.
The problem is, I was still hanging onto my expectations for the novel – and Falatko, it seemed, was hanging onto certain things in the first half of the novel that he would later give up on. The early going of this book is creepy. There’s an odd neighbor, who seems to be stalking Sarah but who is also just basically a character out of an episode of Psych: he shows up to complain about things he thinks the couple is doing, he’s always cleaning up cigarette butts at the smoking station, and they can’t seem to make it from their apartment to the elevator without running into him. And much musing is given to a “non-functional beam” in the apartment that straight up seems to move. Charles’ fear of the balcony seems like tremendous foreshadowing, as does a coffee explosion and Sarah’s night terrors.
But all of it, in the end, is looking only at what Bowie called “the terror of knowing what this world is about.” Charles is missing his glory days, when he and his best friend (a ne’er-do-well of the highest LES/East Village caliber) and said best friend’s sexpot of a girlfriend would (among other things) snort some heroin and go crazy on the town. And Sarah is realizing that she’s nearly completely financially dependent on her husband and doesn’t want to be an “old” just yet. It was the scene where Charles & Sarah meet the ne’er-do-wells in a bar – and end up snorting some heroin together, a terrifically questionable idea considering Charles is a self-proclaimed recovering addict. It has the end result of kicking the latent addiction entirely, but it also is the moment that the book began to pivot for me – and, I daresay, the author too. It was the first time I felt really engaged with Charles and Sarah as people as opposed to characters in a scary story and I got onboard for the rest of their story, leading up to one hell of a redemptive party to close things out.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel like the novel couldn’t shake off its desire to be actually scary. When the true nature of their creepy neighbor is revealed, it felt like somebody turning on the light to show that the scary monster is nothing more than a coat rack – but it also felt like exactly that, as though we were meant to have been spooked and thinking that something supernatural (or at least Weird) was going down, and that reveal felt a little out-of-sync with what the book had, by that point, become. I found myself wondering what Falatko’s actual point was, with this book. Was he writing about gentrification? Were we supposed to be on the side of the yuppies who own the building, on the side of the fake-yuppies (Charles and Sarah, who have more cred than their neighbors, ostensibly), or on the side of the people on the street we occasionally run into who express varying sorts of dismay at the change in their neighborhood? Perhaps you have to answer for yourself, based on your expectations of the world.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. It’s a little uneven pretty much throughout the entire book, as though the novel doesn’t know what it wants itself to be. But Daniel Falatko conjures up the terror of growing up, of a thirtysomething’s identity crisis, of gentrification and missing the city you arrived into – and despite the book failing to meet my initial expectations, I course-corrected myself quickly enough to genuinely enjoy much of it. This isn’t anywhere near as bleak as High-Rise or the work of the Brat Pack – but, then, neither is Williamsburg in 2008, you know?
I done wrote an article about gentrification porn over at The Weeklings. Check it out.
Or read it here:
GENTRIFICATION PORN: NORTH BROOKLYN GROUND ZERO
SOME PEOPLE are into serial killers. Normal, harmless people who wouldn’t hurt a fly. You probably know at least one. That nerdy dude from the design department who obsesses about just what pushed Dahmer over the line from sick-but-harmless fantasy world to full-on heads in the freezer, that girl you went out with Freshman year whose Manson Family book collection went way beyond just Helter Skelter and would refer to obscure Fam members by their first names. People are obsessed by sick things sometimes. You probably know someone who reads up on the Holocaust so much that this formerly “special section on the shelf” has taken over the entire bookcase, someone who will sometimes casually quote Göring at dinner parties.
Yes, oftentimes non-dangerous people are interested in evil. For me, serial killers are far too loner science nerd to be fascinating and the Nazis were a bunch of dicks. But one truly evil aspect of mankind has always held a special place in my heart: Gentrification. And when I say “gentrification” I mean hardcore, drive out the poor people with guns drawn, cash grab every square inch of bombed-out ghetto and build an overpriced coffee shop on the bloodstained concrete gentrification. I even wrote a novel about it. Fortunately, I happen to live right at ground zero for urban “nickname Flushing Head ‘FluHo’ and the condos shall rise” gentrification of the most ruthless and cunning variety: North Brooklyn. Unlike what most people think, a good gentrification move doesn’t just involve putting in a juicery outside a project highrise and hoping for a “Juicery spotted in hot new hood” headline on Curbed NY. A proper gentrification move takes a certain cold-hearted precision and tone-deaf ambition, a blatant Viking invader mentality that elevates properly executed gentrification strategies to the level of an art form.
Fortunately, I don’t have to walk more than two blocks past my front door on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to point out some really good examples of classic, evil-genius gentrification maneuvers. When I first moved onto this block ten years ago it was a desolate stretch of urban blight, the kind of place where if you saw another person walking on the street then this was a problem. Because nobody had any reason to be walking on this street. With Williamsburg now officially more expensive to live in than most of Manhattan, the street is now lined with so many juiceries, $200 jeans clothing boutiques, and specialty desert shops that they almost seem to cancel each other out. Which is, of course, perfect for a gentrification porn addict such as myself.
Williamsburg is just the same age-old NYC progression, only this time it’s right up in my face, just another couple of blocks on an increasingly bloody trail. Mobbed-up Hell’s Kitchen begat Clinton. The tent cities of the Lower East Side begat the East Village. And now bombed-out Billyburg, Brooklyn becomes a place for tourist groups and hip hotels, even though once war-torn Bushwick just two L Train stops past mine is now so utterly hip that certain areas of Williamsburg are calling themselves “Bushwick”. It’s a truly dizzying scenario, and it makes one wonder if currently war-torn Brownsville, Brooklyn, pretty much the last remaining ghetto in NYC proper, will soon be renamed BroVille for real estate purposes.
Of course, this is absolute paradise for a gentrification pornographer. There isn’t enough room in this piece to cover even a small portion of the truly cunning and cynical gentrification highlights this neighborhood has to offer, so see below for five really great gentrification chess moves I came across on just one ten-minute stroll through “East Williamsburg” (i.e. Bushwick, but now referred to as “West Bushwick”).
This is prime gentrification right here. Complete and utter genius. This used to be a quirky little neighborhood oddity, the kind of store that makes for a great talking point and gives any locale that WTF factor that really gives you a warm feeling when you walk past it. It was a store that sold a combination of tombstones and bread. Great-smelling homemade bread. You could pop in and order a headstone for granny and grab a loaf to have with your pasta that night while you were at it. It was run by two Italian dudes with matching poodles, with ads for their self-published memoirs likeSon Of A Don and I Did My Time in the windows. Every day at five they would come out on the sidewalk to peddle what was left of that days bread batch. “Two Dollar Loaves!” could be heard ringing up and down Graham Avenue. Followed by the yelps of the poodles.
Obviously, this down-home nonsense had to go. And why waste such valuable real estate on anything less than a high end tattoo shop? This is an incredibly well executed gentrification move since it isn’t obvious. It isn’t as if they threw the bread and poodles and tombstones out into the street and put in an Apple store or something. A good gentrification move must be subtle. A perfect one will even appeal to the old heads in the neighborhood, a Trojan horse deception smiling upon them with one face while driving up rents and calling in real estate developers with the other. Like this tattoo shop, for example. The old heads in the hood don’t realize that tatz are cool now. That they’re incredibly expensive. That these tattoo artists are probably branded celebrities with their own reality shows in the works. In their day, the only people who had tattoos were hoods or navy men. This seems, to them, like an underdog establishment run by bearded shabby dudes who couldn’t get an office job due to their neck ink. It stings far less to replace their beloved bread and tombstone store with this than it would another juicery. Yet it secretly hurts them far worse than a high end cupcake shop. Far, far worse. Because what is a better talking point when walking out of your 900K one bedroom than stating, “Yea, I’m getting inked up there next week. Grant got me on the short waiting list.”
Grabbing cash and adding to the gentrification of a neighborhood without having to endure all those annoying hall type meetings and flyer protests. Props to this tat shop for doing gentrification right. Keep up the good work, dudes.
Unlike the first example which is a cunning little gentrification chess move, this one takes the exact opposite strategy: The full-tilt, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners gentrification blitzkrieg!
“Oh so you were once this kooky little dinner with cheap and delicious heart attack shakes and a clientele of retired mafia members chatting about the dog races and old prison tales? A neighborhood institution that adds a lot of flavor and heart to the block? Well fuck you and all your haggard waitresses who call everyone “hon”. We’ll just buy the building and raise the rent and your colorful little world will be tossed to the ether where it belongs. And we WILL put in an expensive juicery with drink names like “Turnt Up” and “Wellness Now”. And there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that you or anybody else can ever do to stop our steamroller of PROGRESS.”
Development companies as modern day Norse Vikings? Not too far off, really. And this move right here is admirable in its take-no-prisoners, rip the lungs from the chest cavity and post them high to warn the other inhabitants of this coastline that THAY ARE NEXT technique. Respect.
This one is just so simple. Somewhere, the gentrification Gods are rubbing their hands together and having a good laugh at this scenario. Oftentimes, simplicity is key when it comes to proper gentrification, and this is as simple as small number, no-calculator-needed addition. Let’s take a look.
What did this used to be?
Oh, just a well-regarded, affordable neighborhood dentist with a way cool/semi-creepy tooth logo in the window. Dude was probably there for decades, or at least the decade I spent living right across the street giggling at the tooth logo late on certain “relaxed” nights. This was the type of neighborhood dentist who would take in tooth-aching stragglers off the street and charge only what they could pay. He was rumored to be generous with the laughing gas as well. In short, this was a legendary neighborhood tooth man with a long list of old school local customers and the type of eccentric, kind charm one just doesn’t get from a dentist’s office with a shiny glass exterior and flatscreens advertising teeth whitening surgery in the waiting room.
So what does Gentrification have to say about all this?
“Um, why don’t we put in a totally hip, Instagram-ready, organic butcher shop instead?”
And I really can’t thank Gentrification enough for ticking all the needed boxes on this one. Tatted-up butchers with urban-amish beards? Check. Customers with smartphones in hand ready to snapchat the meats? Check. The People of New York for sale in stacks by the registers? Check.
The real Italian butcher shop across the street contemplating various firebombing strategies?
I’ll leave that box open for them.
Just like the Germans learned to do, proper gentrification involves recognizing and outing imposters to the Cause. This right here is a terrific example of flushing out non-comrades. This used to be a thrift store, which sounds like the type of establishment that should be left to flourish in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood full of the types of individuals who thirst for $200 vintage Poison tees and musty lumberjack attire. But the vibe of this establishment leaned too dangerously close to “real-deal second-hand clothing store” to truly fit into a proper gentrification scenario. This was not the type of place with “fashion” on its mind and waify part-time models working the registers. The store seemed to cater a little too close to…gulp…actual poor people who, like, couldn’t afford new clothes. So while allowed to exist in the early stages of the neighborhood’s gentrification, not immediately crushed in the name of progress, it was eventually outed as an imposter and immediately demolished to make way for something that is truly needed: luxury condominiums.
We won’t be needing your musty old poor people hand-me-downs anymore, thank you very much. Nice work, gentrification Gestapo. And long may you reign.
Hi, we’re a quirky warehouse space selling cool stuff. We are sorry your favorite record store had to move out of here to Greenpoint, but hey, we’re not the enemy. Just another local biz trying to make good. Oh, we look like an Urban Outfitters, you say? Nope. Not an Urban Outfitters. We’re local and quirky! Oh, so you’re wondering why we sell all the same stuff as Urban outfitters? That must just be a coincidence. Because we’re definitely a warehouse collective selling nothing but great clothes and turntables and books and records and all the things that will let your inner-hipness really shine on out. Great! So you’d like to purchase that “mock vintage” Echo & The Bunnymen tee? Let me just ring you up. Sure glad we’re not Urban outfitters, amiright? Have a nice…um, ok, so you’re wondering why your receipt says Urban Outfitters. Well, ahem, sorry no refunds. Next in line? Sir, ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to move it along. Do we need to call…ok, we do…security we have a situation on the ground floor…
These five fine examples of expertly executed gentrification were spotted just steps from my front door, and I didn’t even get as far as the true Ground Zero of heartless urban progress: The Vice Magazine-ravaged Williamsburg waterfront. Here is to hoping that our fearless and cunning leader, Progress itself, continues to drive out this type of homey, neighborhood nonsense and line the entire world with vegan coffee shops, Urban Outfitters, and juicery after juicery after juicery.
For only then will we truly be safe.
Thoughtful review over at Dead End Follies. This dude really seems to get it. Props to him.
“How can anyone own a view?”
I spent years of my life trying to figure out how society turned young and beautiful people filled with dreams and hormones into our parents. Today, I am 33 and I know. The first step is finishing school: nothing will help you reassess your worth as a human being quicker than an employer chuckling at your resume while bills are stacking up. The second (and final step for most people) is buying real estate. Buying a house or a condo seems like a straightforward transaction, but it’s fucking twisted. Basically, it’s the process of having a financial institution assessing if you’re worth owning a house. Building it yourself on an abandoned plot of land wouldn’t be simpler, but it sure as hell would be healthier.
I am 33 years old and I’ve been a bona fide adult for almost a year now, so I’m naturally interested in adult problems such as the material worth of my existence. I am 33 years old and remember being a kid with hopes, dreams and truckloads of testosterone and I still to let my reality define me as a person. That’s why I gravitate towards novels like Daniel Falatko‘sCondominium. I can only praise Falatko for writing a novel in the shadow of literary giants and while it couldn’t have possibly matched the intensity of already existing iconic real estate fiction, Condominium manages to makethe common pursuits of adult age sound as hollow as they really are.
Condominium is the story of Charles and Sarah, a young archetypal New York couple, who just moved in one of Williamsburg’s Waterfront skyscrapers, one of the most sought-after pieces of real estate in the Greatest City in the World. At the very moment they complete the transaction, an invisible tension settles between the two and starts prying them apart. Sarah finds herself isolated in this tower, prey to creepy neighbors and her unstable professional situation while Charles works late every night in order to make the steep mortgage payment and spends the rest of his time anesthetizing his alienation with his work friends. So, are they moving on up or are they just getting pulled apart by the existential pressure of owning prime real estate?
Let’s discuss the two elephants in the room first: J.G Ballard and Bret Easton Ellis. They’re all over Daniel Falatko‘s Condominium. It’s damn nearly impossible to live up to Ballard’s seminal skyscraper novel High-Rise (now a movie, starring freakin’ Tom Hiddleston), but Falatko seems very aware of that problem and keeps both feet firmly into realism. Although you will find scenes of malaise and awkward neighbors who overpass their boundaries that will remind you of Ballard’s book, Daniel Falatko never crosses the line although it feels like creepy neighbor Raymond is always a step away from bringing the narrative into Ballardian territory. Same with the party scenes that owe a lot to Ellis’ legendary knack for portraying debauchery, yet his character manage to keep their decorum and sense of social responsibility, at least most of the time.
He had yet to witness their building at night, from the ground, and had to stop on the corner by a vegan cheesesteak truck to marvel at the sight. A massive rectangle of light exploding skyward. These streets he walked through to reach it, dark and muffled, the lights too dim, the buildings too drab, all of them, all of everything, sucked into oblivion by the roaring slipstream of his Tower.
I know I’m not ACTUALLY discussing Condominium a whole lot here, but I believe going over Daniel Falatko‘s influences is important because they are two violent, otherworldly novel that helped shape something that’s much closer to the contemporary reality of real estate owning and yet feels almost as alienating. I liked Condominium for a very simple reason: it exposes the fallacy of having over being. I’m not some kind of anarchist who would nationalize housing or anything, but I thought that reading about Charles, Raymond and other owners value their relationship to “units” and assess worth to one another over simply living their lives because they’re defined by their financial selves, to be absolutely terrifying.
It’s how Condominium finds success in the shadow of High-Rise: it’s nowhere near as apocalyptic, but it threatens to be on every page. Daniel Falatkoleaves a lot undefined between his characters, so that his readers can build their own nightmare scenarios. Condominium is never apocalyptic, but it’s constantly threatening. Some details about the novel bugged me, nothing major in the scope of what Falatko tried to achieve, but it created distance with the character. For example: I fail to see how recreational heroin snorters with high stress jobs and insane mortgage payments can manage to keep their lives together. Of course, I don’t live in New York, so I have no idea what the real estate scene is over there, but I thought it clashes with the inherent realism of the novel and made Charles and Sarah come off as boneheads.
It’s possible to write an engaging and original skyscraper novel in the shadow of J.G Ballard‘s High-Rise and Daniel Falatko‘s Condominium is hard evidence of that statement. My own obsession with Ballard’s work might be talking too loud here and I’m sure Condominium is even more enjoyable if you haven’t read it, but I thought Daniel Falatko did a terrific job at defining an original discourse in the shadow of such an iconic and important novel.Condominium definitely is an “adult novel” about issues you can’t truly wrap your head around unless you’ve been confronted to them. It wasn’t flawless, but few novels are. It managed to portray the ugly world we build for ourselves with unflinching resolve though.
Decent review over at ReinReads.
Check it out or read it here:
Falatko’s Condominium takes place within the time span of just one week, with sections separated by day. Charles & Sarah have just moved in their new condo & it serves as a symbol of their semi-fucked up lives. The one thing they have in common is that they feel like the condo owns them instead of the other way around. In Bret Easton Ellis form, it’s a novel about materialism, existentialism, consumerism, & every other ism, but simultaneously about absolutely nothing. But unlike Bret Easton Ellis, it didn’t really have those stand-out sentences of epiphany. There was no “people are afraid to merge” type of sentence that really hits it home hard. However, there were incredible moments of clarity. Several scenes that were so unique, but also seemed almost like non-fiction.
For example, Falatko perfectly describes that dreaded Monday feeling. The awful train crowd rush, the exhaustion. But he does it in a way that’s comical, “How many American Apparel cashiers could they possibly need? How many internships at Vice magazine?,” Charles wonders as he passes hipsters on the street. Made even more hilarious because Charles is a step away himself from being a hipster himself. How many times are you gonna think about one of your “obscure albums from the seventies?” It’s one of the many great moments that just clicks.
Another great one liner that was such a clear image in my head, I swear I’ve seen it before was, “a man with the Rangers logo tatted on the side of his face who strangely kept ordering daiquiris.” These moments are gold buried within a lot of seemingly random & unnecessary NYC cliches & references. At one point there’s so much location name dropping that the Lower East Side, Seward Park, Essex, East Broadway, Grand, & Delancey are all referenced in just three sentences.
The timing is tricky because each action is described so minutely that the reader can get pretty bored. But it serves as an overall theme that time & space are relative. Time & Space, two subjects Falatko was right to consistently evoke Burroughs in, gives the work a claustrophobic feel. Space, & its effect on a person, is at the forefront of this storyline. It got me thinking how some religions believe a person achieves true grace when their environment no longer dictates their reality. It eliminates the need to adapt because you just are. Sarah & Charles clearly suck at this because their condo pretty much fucks up their life. Either that, or the drugs make them so paranoid that they believe it’s fucking up their life. Don’t even get me started on the weird neighbor Raymond, their paranoia levels are through the roof with that guy. But is it him? Is it them? Is he just a symbol of societal pressure? Who knows! Does it matter? Does anything?
Nothing matters in the novel at least. I mean Hamlet could take a lesson from these guys on inaction. At one point the thought of actually doing something, anything, brings creepily wide smiles to their faces because their jobs & lives are that vapid & meaningless.
I had a few gripes with the writing style. I hate head jumping when it’s not done skillfully, plus every sentence had way too many commas that ramble off & return back to their subjects inelegantly. I did however love the Falatko’s ability to flawlessly include curse-words in not only the thoughts, but the dialogue without it sounding overdone or clunky. It felt right with the characters & the context.
I was a little confused how old the characters were for a while, & when I found out they’re in their late twenties I was a little surprised. They complain like children, but reference Rolling Stone, smack their forehead, & say things like “the hard youth of today.” They seemed like those kids who’re a year older than you, but think they’re in their fifties. Realistically, if this takes place in modern day NYC, then they weren’t even alive for the height of the late sixties/early seventies, so I don’t know why they’d be so pretentious about it. Unless they’re dicks, which they probably are.
Last minute things that irked me:
- They referenced Californication. Ugh. Awful show.
- The sentence “Never date someone in publishing.” Yup. My boyfriend can attest to this.
- It dissed NYU kids, but gave FIT cred at one point, which is so backwards to me as a student of both institutions.
- It missed a real opportunity for a “beast of bourbon” pun.
Last minute likes:
- It never actually explicitly gives detail on the drug scenes, but still manages to convey significant meaning.
- Made me crack up when it said all bands now are named after animals (download Frightened Rabbit though & tell me you don’t love them).
- Deals with expectations of life not being met & having a skewed reality as a result of it, I mean, that pretty much sums up life in a nutshell.
- It didn’t dive into the impact of social media & technology & blah blah blah like every other novel of this kind.
- The copy description does not do it justice, so it definitely surpassed my expectations.
Condominium gets Literati’d over at Chicago Literati.
Readers, especially those of a certain twenty-something age living and hanging out in River North–or by the time of publishing, the West Loop–will be drawn to the premise of Condominium. A young couple moves into the sleek condo of their dreams, only to find themselves quickly warped by it’s strange magnetic pull. Their tension and discord is thickened by some strange new forces, including a suspicious neighbor and the return of a few dangerous old habits.
Like many stories of the rich and not-so-famous, Condominium also plays on our desire to peek into the social stratosphere. In one particular scene when Sarah’s carelessness causes a minor housekeeping disaster, If found myself cringing with equal parts horror and delight. A pristine kitchen, outrageously expensive flooring, a pot of tar black coffee. You do the math.
There is strong voice and a lot of energy packed into these pages, and right away the characters come out swinging. We meet Sarah and Charles on the Saturday they arrive at their new condo, as she unleashes a string of insults about the movers and he has a vision of their boxed-up life going up in flames. They feel conflicted about their newfound membership in the real estate elite, which sometimes works and sometimes creates confusion for the reader.
Charles is the breadwinner by far, working in the financial district and footing the bill for this golden condo. Sarah’s editorial assistantship barely covers her bills, and an arsenal of credit cards make up the difference. They love their new place but they are also frightened by it, and the adulthood it seems to stand for. Perhaps they are in over their heads, perhaps they are just learning how to swim.
As things go when you live at such precarious heights, it only takes a few wrong moves for things to start feeling shaky. A job changes suddenly, or someone goes a little too hard for a few too many weekends in a row. New surroundings start to feel disorienting and unfamiliar, and one falls back on old rituals and crutches to stay grounded.
While the story focuses mostly on Sarah and Charles, the cast of characters includes their work friends and frenemies as well. For Sarah, Jenny, and Ryan are entertaining enough to talk to provide office refuge, but much too basic to actually be friends. Charles (and Sarah, but mostly Charles) has Andrew and Ruthie, a ne’er do well couple who snort up their fun and always bring enough to share with the class, to the dismay of their recovering pal. And of course everybody hates Raymond, the lurking neighbor who drops by to stir the pot with his perfectly manicured hands. It’s not clear at first why he’s so interested in the new residents, but when the curtain is finally drawn back, you may find yourself looking over your shoulder after your next condo board meeting.
The story begins on one Saturday, and ends on the next. While I found the tight week-long structure helpful to shape the story, it left little room for that quiet negative space that can do so much for the depth of short books. Thank goodness for the beautiful and terrifying balcony, which provided literal and metaphorical air when our characters need to get away from one another or confront something on their own time.
In his allegiance to their breakneck bohemian rhythm, at times it feels like Falatko hands the car keys over to Sarah and Charles. They live a fast paced existence–jumping back and forth from adult to child, grungy to glamorous, responsible to careless, rich to scraping by–and a the end of more than one section I felt a kind of whiplash. I would have loved to be a fly on the industrial-chic wall on a “normal” day. With only a week to spend together, we don’t really get to that point.
Without giving too much away, I was intrigued and hungry for more development once we discovered Raymond’s real purpose in the building. It was almost hard to believe Charles and Sarah could as feel threatened as they seemed, while constantly flaunting their invincibility in the face of others’ opinions. And there was something I could not quite understand behind the way they treat Raymond. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve shut down an elevator creeper or two in my day, I just think maybe I missed the inciting incident that sparked their cruel sarcasm.
A character’s choices and consequences rest on two sides of an equation, and in some subtle ways I wasn’t sure things balanced out. I don’t know exactly what it’s like to meet a creepy new neighbor while living in a $920,000 condo, or to share responsibilities with a partner who triple out earned me, or to try and do heroin only occasionally. That being said, the unprovoked outburst or the strange interaction between two people who are supposedly close enough to share this heavenly apartment had me wondering what I had missed.
Once or twice I was distracted by a few left-field comments from characters, which did nothing to develop the story or inform us about the people talking. Often a writer will provide a lens through which to view remarks that are stereotypical or racist. The author can either give some helpful clues about the age, social status or background of the characters to frame that touchy dialogue, or else they risk throwing the reader off course. I felt my attention drift from the page as I wondered about the life experience and intention behind a comment that might have meant nothing.
In creating stories I think the writer is both architect and builder. The first one is focused on the design and the feel of a place, the second one must be thinking about how the residents will actually use it. Condominium is heavy on the design, but I found myself wanting to strip away the insulation and get a better look at the bare bones. Why is Sarah so angry? What is eating at Charles? We know it’s heroin, but we don’t really know why. Apart from an internal monologue in which Sarah wonders whether or not a nursery is in their long-term plans, I didn’t really get a sense for what kept them in orbit around one another in the first place.
I wondered how this book might read differently if I lived in New York, or were a member of this mythical creative class that somehow keeps one foot in the financial district and the other the world of the unpaid internship. I know people who make very big and very small money, people who have incredible views, and people who do drugs on the weekend. They are usually three separate people though, and it was a trip to read them all rolled up into one.
Really good review over at Alternating Current for Condo. I feel very “privileged” to receive this type of attention.
Condominium, by Daniel Falatko, is a partly comedic and lighthearted, somewhat existential and dramatic, novel about a week in the life of a couple who move into their dream million-dollar high-rise condominium with its Brooklyn skyline view over the East River. The story alternates points of view and experience between Charles and Sarah as they navigate multiple issues with their new lifestyle, including struggles in their career, a strange new neighbor, challenging relationships with friends, and recreational drug usage.
The alternating points of view work well for this story as a way for us to learn more about the protagonists, especially things they may not share with each other or with the reader in first-person point of view. They begin with voices in common, but the more their plotlines unfold, the more they definitely develop different experiences with the condo. Giving voice to each of them also allows the story to show the difficulty for couples in developing the “us” and allows the individuals to be more complex, as well.
Life at their new dream condo is never not weird. They quickly meet a strange neighbor who seems to be observing them a little too much. His lack of boundaries makes them uncomfortable, adds mystery to the story, and drives a lot of the tension, addressing the question of just what did they get themselves into? Every time I thought the Creepy Neighbor storyline might fall into the trap of cliché, it went in an unexpected direction that gave this book its unique signature.
Although a lot of the story addresses the Money Can’t Buy Happiness idea, more is happening here.
I guess you start to think of all this luxury, assuming it will seep its way into your marrow, make your life luxurious, but really it’s a bummer to find you still don’t get enough sleep and cobwebs still form on ceilings and your face still breaks out and your man still smells up the bathroom and you still need to get super stoned just to relax for an hour on the couch and not think about anything.
If the condo doesn’t bring them happiness, it leaves the question what will the condo bring? What will bring happiness?
The adjustment to the new life puts them all out of sorts. Charles finds he is too scared of heights to enjoy his expensive balcony. Sarah has problems getting comfortable in any of the other rooms. They have contradictory emotions about the view. For Charles,
Now that he had seen a view from the highest precipice, the pinnacle, he was disappointed to find that all other views were rendered limp and detached. He now owned a better view than all of this. It had blotted out his world.
This is while Sarah
[…] thought of someone watching them from over in Manhattan, from Stuy Town with a high-powered telescope, entangled stick figures swallowed up in the massiveness of a waterfront tower. She wondered if perhaps that person would enjoy this more than she did.
They find that location change doesn’t equate to life change. This would be true regardless of whether the move were ‘moving on up’—They are the same people wherever they move.
Monday brought things crashing down, as always. It doesn’t matter if you’re heading to work from a luxury high-rise or a trailer park, you are still heading to work.
A common idea in all of this is how difficult it is for them to shed skins. Charles has an occasional drug habit he can’t quite shake. In fact, Sarah alternates between wanting him to quit and thinking it’s the thing that keeps him interesting. He has an obsession with a rockstar who died years earlier. This is similar to folks stopping their lives every April 5th to mourn the death of Kurt Cobain. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)
During a comedic peak of the novel, at a party unlike any others, an outsider challenges them:
“Aren’t you people in your thirties?” she hissed to him, a crossing guard scolding a proud jaywalker.
“Late twenties,” he corrected. “This is the demographic you shoot for here at Waterfront Tower(s), no? Young moneyed, edgy, hip. Ready for action on the Williamsburg frontier. Well, here it is. Sorry if you can’t handle it.”
They are on a tricky aging line. They just can’t quite shed their twenties and embrace a thirties slowdown, regardless of the troubles it gives them. It’s their driving question: When do we give up the kicking and screaming, and just go quietly? Not yet, they answer.
There are aspects of this that are lighthearted. It uses hyperbole and humor, and although the stakes may be emotionally serious for Charles and Sarah, nothing that large or permanent is happening. That’s fine. The novel is intentionally interested in smaller issues rather than larger ones, and does so with an effective touch where scope is not a positive or negative quality. One thing that it risks, however, is conjuring but mostly ignoring the specter of privilege. There are moments when the characters observe the geographical lines between rich and poor. There are some comedic situations with a food cart vendor and with a Mexican man who Sarah invites to the climactic party, but they stay on the comedic surface. Is Monday truly the same regardless of whether you are leaving a luxury high-rise or a trailer park? Although certainly never told from anything but an honest voice of its characters, it ends up making the story occasionally sound like the First World Problems meme. The characters grow from certain realities about their dream condo; they may learn the limitations of money in the pursuit of happiness, but I’m not sure they ever leave the context of their privilege. Maybe that’s a missed opportunity. Maybe that’s just a different story. If we stay in their perspective, it’s a great read.
Check out my ORIGINS column over at JMWW where I discuss the origins of Condominium
Or read it here:
The complete vision for Condominium came to me when sitting on the L Train one day and overhearing these two dudes with glittery high tops making fun of the banks of glittering condo towers being constructed up and down the Williamsburg waterfront. They were riffing on the bland types of people who would be populating these buildings. Stroller people. Day traders. Upper Manhattanites. The types of people who should be quarantined and regulated to an area far from DIY music venues and illegal artist spaces. My initial instinct was to agree with them, and I had been guilty of similar jive in the past, but something about their basic generalization of an entire sub-population irked me that day. It really got the wheels spinning. I mean, yes, these khaki masses flooding into those glass and steel prisons are certainly among the worst types of white people, but can you really just call for their mass execution just because they may not know who Animal Collective is? Doesn’t every individual who has ever walked this Earth have complex inner dialogues and interesting hidden angles and things that haunt them until the day they perish and beyond? Don’t forget, these people are at the top of the game. They have a lot to lose and blood on their hands. Their demons are most likely WAY more plentiful than those two kids on the train trying to remember if they had showered that afternoon and, if not, then does it even matter, maaaaaan? So can you really write the condominium owners off as bland and uninteresting as a whole?
That’s where Condominium came from. The idea was born on the L Train somewhere under all those concrete shoe bodies and the black, polluted water of the East River. The idea was to write a novel from inside the minds of the gentrifying invaders. It’s a strange concept to view these people as underdogs, but in a way they are. They are stereotyped and put down just like the rest of us. “All people are interesting,” is what Condominium is telling you. “Even the ones you don’t like.” And yes, people really, really hate these characters. At least one major agent backtracked on signing up the novel because said agent’s interns threatened to walk. This is how much they hated Charles and Sarah and the gang. As I’ve always said, the visceral reaction certain types of individuals have when confronted with these characters is a good thing. I didn’t want to sugarcoat them for those two dudes on the train. I wanted them to be the real deal. People tend to romanticize Vikings, for example, pointing out their cool mythology and putting them in the role of romanticized outlaw. But try telling that to some coastal farmer back in the day having his lungs ripped from his chest cavity after having just watched his wife and children be stomped to death. This is the type of horrified reaction people have for Charlie and Sar Bear, and all they’ve done is moved into a damn Condo.
These are modern urban Vikings. Invaders. The gentrifying hoards. The death of a once great city. They are the exact people those kids on the L Train mercilessly mock but secretly fear and envy. The idea that came to me on the train was to crawl into their headspaces and what was left of their souls. I wanted to show people that multiple realms unfold within every individual’s psyche, that people who can afford a million-plus condo have an even greater number of devils to scurry from than you do. They have more pressing matters to worry about than which warehouse party to hit that night. To put it succinctly: They are more interesting than you are in most ways.
So if you hated Condominium, then you should track down those two dudes on the L train and have a word with them, because they are the true origin of the novel. Their heads are faded on the sides and floppy on the top. At least one will be rocking lenses-free frames. By some sort of smoke and mirrors or straight out magic their jeans will be simultaneously skin-tight and baggy. And the real giveaway will be the glittery high tops. The kind that middle school kids in the mid-00s rocked to try to look like Soldier Boy. Those two dudes are the source. I know this doesn’t quite narrow it down, considering 91% of dudes under 27 in North BK look like this, and I wouldn’t advocate just going out and swinging on random Williamsburg people, so it would be best not to bother. The true origin would be hard to track down.
Besides, they’ve probably moved to Portland by now.