Heavy Feather Review Piece

Check out my piece over at Heavy Feather Review about the top five fake songs in Condominium.

Or read it here:

It probably says a lot about Condominium that none of the top five songs looming over the plot are by bands that ever existed. Whether this is an indicator of good things about the novel (“A cutting, surreal satire!”) or negative aspects (“What the hell is this thing even about?”) is up in the air, but the fact remains that these five songs have never been heard within this world. But they are heard loud and clear in the world of the novel and within the headspaces of Charles and Sarah and the rest of the gaggle of characters slouching across its pages.

If this list were to be extended past these five (“Just What Everyone Wanted: The Top 310 Songs Influencing An Unknown Novel”), there would be detailed analysis of lesser known Stones songs from their “Sucking in the 70s” period, long and passionate passages about how ethereal and otherworldly The Byrds were in their prime, and at least one heartfelt tribute to the criminally underrated songwriting prowess of Boy George, but hey man, I’m lazy, so we’ll just get Lenny Kaye or David Fricke in to cover these at a later date. If we can afford them. Which we can’t.

Here are the top five songs only that reign large over the nonplot of Condominium, a novel.

Cyanide Breakfast, “Ultraviolet Ditch”

Cashing in on the post-Nirvana “sign anything in plaid with a pulse” mid-90s record company gold rush, Skags Cassidy and his merry band of Doc Marten warriors found themselves with their lone MTV Buzz Bin hit in 1996. Although it landed them a gold record, an opening slot on a Soundgarden arena tour, and semi-intensive Spincoverage for much of that year, one thing it didn’t lead to was another hit. Best known today for The Ditch’s inclusion on a variety of “Grunge Greats” Spotify playlists, Cyanide’s legacy has not managed to achieve the same level of cult dedication that similarly defunct peers such as Candlebox or Blind Melon have enjoyed. Yet although Skags’s eventual, and sadly inevitable, 2001 death from a combination of heroin, pink starburst, and Prozac in his mother’s Washington State trailer missed all the daily papers and received only single paragraph obits in the music monthlies, there is at least one individual on the planet who has been haunted by the man, his lyrics, his pain over the decades that have since passed.

It isn’t just that Charles mourns the anniversary of Skags’s death by setting up makeshift murals comprised of old Cyanide Breakfast cassettes, notebooks full of his high school poetry, and crusty old photos cut from 1996 issues of Sassy and Spin. It isn’t just that he owns bootleg copies of Cyanide’s early demos and can identify key points in each song’s progression. It isn’t just that he can talk for hours about the difference between a 1990 Cyanide bass progression and a more advanced 1994 progression. What really bleeds through is Charles’s obsession with these forgotten and unappreciated lyrics, his looking to them for guidance and his hopes that they will fly him away from his present situation on their pseudopoetic wings. What is Skags telling him in this song, he wonders. That the vibes you cast help shape your dimension? That due to this, nobody ever really dies? No, no, Skags isn’t telling him this. It is something simpler, something far less abstract. Skags is telling him to speak to Abrielle.

Living this life in an ultraviolet ditch, three roads, three turns, three chances I’ve missed, crashed to the gutter but I’m telling you this, I’m vivid as ever in this ultraviolet ditch.

Indeed.

Alligator Uprising, “Scales of Love”

Representing the gutter grime of the 70s’ Lower East Side even though they were born in 1980, fashioning gritty, minimalist guitar lines in a $1,500-per-hour ultra-modern Pro Tools studio, slurring lyrics scrawled on napkins in by-the-crate dive bars frequented by slumming models, Alligator Uprising ascended to eventual Coachella big font status on the back of the catchy and derivative “Scales of Love” in the early 2000s. This is a song assembled from pieces of so many other artist’s songs that it stands ironclad against litigation. Which is a good thing, since it was their only mainstream hit and still the song all the kids scream for when they’re headlining Molly Fest in Birmingham, Alabama, each year to pay those mortgages.

Although we never actually meet the shag-cut, plastic jacket-clad crew in Condominium, they still loom large over the plot just like they do over Urban Outfitters. They may not be playing over the sound system, but their legacy reigns over every aisle of $110 v neck t-shirts. As the love interest, and heroin source, for part time H&M model Ruthie, Micah Deluca of Alligator Uprising plays a key role in the story, fueling both the drama between Ruthie and her sleazed-out advertising BF Andrew and the heroin use of the main characters. Scales of Love even shows up on Ruthie’s ringtone. I’ve been told by many that Andrew and Ruthie should have been the main characters in the novel, that they are much more interesting than Charles and Sarah, and though I mostly agree, I would instead say that the main characters should have been Micah D. and his Alligator cohorts. In the original manuscript, the Alligators were based on a real band, and that band’s afro-sporting guitarist was the heroin source/Ruthie love interest, but I was told by many an agent and publisher that this would be an instant lawsuit from those born-rich, lawyered-up Chuck Taylor enthusiasts. So Alligator Uprising they became. Claws To The Sky.

Andrew: I don’t know which one it is. Some drug addict with stringy hair and bad skin

Sarah: That doesn’t narrow it down at all, Andrew.

Dormitory Overdose

As Cyanide’s old rivals, The DO never managed to score a hit despite two Spin-acclaimed records on Columbia. Grittier and more “real” than Skags and the boys, the DO crew were known for wearing real-deal stained and mothballed thrift store plaid as opposed to The Breakfast’s designer lumberjack shirts, scuffed motorcycle boots instead of pricey Docs, and claimed to have “grown up around some real dark shit” and not just press release fodder. “Skags Cassidy makes a big deal out of growing up in a trailer park and stuff,” the band once famously stated in their lone 120 Minutes appearance from 1993. “Well, we grew up in a train station, man. Next to a homeless shelter. And there was no vending machine.”

Although we never actually get to hear Dormitory Overdose in the novel, we do come across them in a flashback sequence where Charles describes, in hallucinatory fashion, a business trip he had made to London several years prior where he discovered a DO CD at a used items sale in Camden. As a Cyanide devotee, his choice of Skags and crew over the realer, darker Dormitory boys is an important one. Charles is accused many times throughout the book (and several times by critics of the book) for being too bland, to finance worker, too white baseball cap for the earthy, stoned-out Sarah. But there is a darker side to Charles that goes beyond his lone real-life bad habit (hint: cotton candy), an inner Dormitory Overdose that is only reached through his internal observations and long flights of spiraling thoughts and fears. That he runs across this grittier group in a flashback sequence only known to readers says lots about Charles. There is a lot going on inside, but those ripples barely register on the surface. Sarah recognizes this hint of “real” below the overgrown frat bro exterior, which is essentially what has kept her with him for this long.

Well, that and the fact that he can afford a Williamsburg condo, of course.

The International, “Unwritten Dirge”

With Waterfront Tower(s) 96 percent sold, moving those final units is a life-or-death priority for the Community Board. Unfortunately, one of the prospective new tenants just refuses to give up his pet monkey and won’t move in unless the Board’s primate ban is lifted. And just who might this troublesome prospective tenant be? No less that Gentrified Brooklyn royalty, the mumbling lead singer of white person crisis dirge-crescendo-heavyweights The International. Can you imagine the StreetEasy wow factor of having this early-middle-aged, wine drunk, suit jacket aficionado inhabiting a condo building? Imagine what this would do for the square footage value. Surely this tenant is entirely worth the possible chimp hoarding fines?

Although the dirge in question has not yet been written by the novel’s close, it is more the threat of the dirge that impacts the book. “He’ll write a dirge about this, man,” warns Charles when the Board tells him of the situation. Not only would Waterfront Tower(s) lose a key prospective buyer that could be leveraged for his fame (and really, being the lead singer of The International is basically the equivalent of being Justin Bieber in North Brooklyn), but they would also be the target of The International’s latest eight-minute dirge, seven minutes of depressive mumbling followed by a minute of life-affirming crescendo. A developer may be able to handle the loss of a big-name buyer, but could never live through this dirge.

Needless to say, the monkey stays.

Gaggle of Hens, “Unnamed Animal Band Song”

Sarah: I believe they are called Deer Tick, or maybe Deer Hunter, or wait, no, they are Band of Foxes or Wolves or Horses or Snakes. I guess what I’m getting at is that they are one of those animal groups.

Charles: All groups are named after animals these days, huh?

Sarah: Every. Single. One.

At the time Condominium was being written, every single band that received even cursory attention on Pitchfork or the other indie payola music blogs was named after some sort of animal. Or bird. Or reptile. This was pretty much a requirement at that time if your band wanted any attention at all or to even get a gig within the borough of Brooklyn. Fortunately, the formula was pretty easy. All you had to do was pick an animal, any animal would do, and add a noun that described some sort of grouping. Animal Collective would be a good example. Band of Horses another. Or Wolf Parade. Some bands stepped outside this box and included the animal without the grouping, and those bands were mercilessly mocked or ended up failures (Deer Tick would fall into the former category, Wolf Eyes the latter). So when it came time to decide which fake band Charles and Sarah would come across playing the coveted Williamsburg waterfront summer series, it could only be Gaggle of Hens.

What Gaggle of Hens represents is the very spirit of the then-rapidly gentrifying north Brooklyn. It really was an interesting time period to witness, when invading gentrifiers like Charles and Sarah had to stare right into the eyes of their very worst nightmare: people without 401Ks. Found objects sculptors living in illegal lofts. Barbacks playing bass in nine different bands. Cute bearded barista boys trying, and in some cases succeeding, in luring away their girlfriends or wives. Girls with unlicensed pottery stands and half-ironic Indian headdresses turning the heads of their day trader husbands on Sunday walks to the new Duane Reade. It was an unsettling meeting of the urban tribes that even, for a few short months there, saw an unlikely mingling of two worlds drawn together by common interests such as Molly and dancing stiffly to Gathering of Panda Bears. Just like with the pilgrims and Indians, the invading tribe stepped back and slaughtered the natives mercilessly after this brief utopia, killing off music venues and artist spaces to make room for much-needed juiceries, banks, and wine bars, but for a brief flashing moment there it really was looking like the Summer of Love. With Gaggle of Hens providing the soundtrack. Or Fleet Foxes. Or Grizzly Bear. Or Dayglo Lemurs. Or Smattering of Pterodactyls. Or …

Okay I’m tired, so I’m happy to announce that numbers 6-99 will be covered by Lenny Kaye and David Fricke after all. We can’t pay them, but fortunately our lawyers discovered that these two are contractually obligated to appear or be quoted in any written music list or documentary on underappreciated but highly influential bands. So it’s been real, but I’m off to have a bowl. Take it away, Lenny.

Top 5 Books That Influenced Condominium

Check out this piece I wrote over at Ben Arzate’s blog about the top 5 books that inspired Condominium.

Or read it here:

People always assume things. When it comes to works of art, people tend to assume that any work is connected to a host of concrete, critic-approved signposts that preceded it. I pity any indie rock musician, for example, since their first release will no doubt be linked to “The Velvet Underground” or “Joy Division” or “Pavement” or “Sonic Youth” or “Big Star” or “The Stooges” regardless of whether they have ever listened to these bands and even if there is no apparent trace of their sound to be found in the music. I once read an interview with the prick from LCD Soundsystem where he said that he used to go to shows and shout, “I have that record too!” at the bands. Critical signposts in any art form can feel like prisons it is impossible to escape from as an emerging artist, and any work you put out will have dozens of LCD Soundsystems shouting, “It’s all been done before!” from the sidelines.

Literature is even more limiting in this regard, mainly because the critical signposts you get tied to just aren’t as cool as The Stooges. Did you put out a short story collection that contains subtle epiphanies? Alice Munro! Does your novel take a dystopian view of modern civilization? J.G. Ballard alert! Oh, so your novel is violent? Hello Cormac McCarthy! It doesn’t even matter if you’ve never read McCarthy or if you made no attempt to emulate his style. If the first review mentions “McCarthy” even once then you are bound for life to this critical signpost. Your next work could be a life-affirming tale of a young African boy befriending a fuzzy, talking Sloth, and you best believe “McCarthy” will be mentioned at least a dozen times in reference to this work. You will never escape. Cormac’s grizzled shadow will hover over you until the day you exit this world, and all because some parents’ basement book blogger hopped up on Cinnamon Chai, who may or may not have read past the cover blurb, pulled an LCD Soundsystem on your first review.

When Condominium got signed, my wonderful publisher was way into tying me to John Updike for marketing purposes. Now, I do love me some Updike and I happen to have grown up in the same strange region which birthed the Rabbit King, and there are certainly much worse literary figures to be tied to, so yea what the hell? At least this connection set me up for some admittedly hilarious one-liners on the hate-clogged internet (“So when I got to ‘Millennial John Updike’ I took a moment to move sharp implements out of the room.” LOLZ). Granted, I hadn’t cracked open a Rabbit tome in over a decade when working on Condo, and Sir Updike’s fine blanket of suburban sprawl 60s dread was not keeping me warm through long nights working on the novel.

Other than witty quips about millennial Updikes (“How can someone clearly in his mid-30s be considered a millennial?” Ouch, dude.), the initial reaction to the novel could be summed up with just five syllables:

Bret Ea-ston Ell-is

Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to have BEE’s checking account…and his agent…and at least three of his blazers…and whatever deal he made at the crossroads which automatically guarantees every one of his notebook entries is made into a feature film…his whole life basically…minus The Canyons of course…and dude can keep the podcast and the Twitter account…yet I’d be proud to have written The Rules of Attraction…but the whole coked-up bisexual urban Hemingway wearing Prada vibe was not a direct inspiration on this particular work. Referring to an author of urban contemporary fiction as being “Ellisian” at this point is like saying a young, rebellious actor was influenced by Marlon Brando. Dude’s shadow looms so large over the contemporary fiction landscape that we are essentially all his offspring. But it doesn’t mean that a well-worn and heavily-noted copy of Less Than Zero was sitting next to our Macbooks as we honed our latest slice of contemp fic. Instead it was Glamorama for me. Or wait, no it wasn’t. Sorry.

So which well-worn copies were sitting next to my wife’s Macbook when working on Condominium, you ask? For someone who toils within the area of contemporary fiction, I must admit that I don’t read any contemporary fiction. At all. Ever. That contemp fic label is unavoidable, of course, since I do happen to write fiction in the present moment, but believe me if I could write novels from 1920s Paris or the Golden Age of Egypt, I absolutely would. People say I have strange reading tastes. I often glance up from the book I’m wrestling with on the subway to catch someone staring at the cover in horror or confusion. I can’t even count the number of times a friend has taken one look at the book I have in my hands and stated, “You are so fucking weird, man.” So while this list of books that influenced Condominium may seem obtuse to you, they make perfect sense to me, and every square inch of the novel bears their imprint.

Trigger warning: There are no beatniks mentioned here. Thomas Wolf was not summoned to duty. David Foster Wallace was not present, nor were any bandannas worn. Michael Chabon was a no-show. A.M. Homes must have been out sick that year. And most disturbingly, Charles Bukowski is not, and I repeat NOT, included. I’m terribly sorry in advance for any confusion or offense taken due to these omissions.

So with no further ado about nothin’, you can blame and burn these five books if you hated Condominium:

J.K. Huysmans: A Rebours (1884): I’ve never been able to identify a single other person in my life who enjoyed this novel. Most haven’t heard of it, and those who have tried it claim they “just weren’t ready.” Well, I was more than ready for it at 16, and it’s been my main navigational device in life ever since. Regarding the author, let’s just say that “J” to tha’ “K” was one real deal weirdo Frenchman motherfucker and leave it at that. Here in his best-known work, lead protagonist Des Esseintes’ fish-out-of-water pain is so completely vivid and lacerating it basically leaps up off the bargain bin book pages and wraps you in its painfully enticing shroud. Des Esseintes’ quest to live a life cut off from all the aesthetically unappealing aspects of the modern society that tortured him so, surrounding by only his favorite books, foods, liquors…even scents is, to me, entirely admirable, and his abject failure to find happiness even in his own perfectly orchestrated isolation is both heartbreaking and fully inevitable. But the main thing that influenced Condominium, possibly to the novel’s detriment, is that Huysmans’ vibe is NEVER angry and NEVER bitter. Yes, he views the society he happens to have been born into with horror, but it’s an almost naïve terror, much a like a child stumbling across a dead rat in the street. He isn’t outraged. He doesn’t lash out at his surroundings. He’s simply frightened and confused and wonders why this awful thing has to be. Huysmans understood that bitterness and anger just aren’t attractive, and living an entirely attractive existence is what his creation, Des Esseintes, was all about. Throughout all his works, Huysmans longed for the time just before modern Christianity really took over, when the old pagan Gods and The Cross stared each other face-to-face and even performed a strange little dance together. It’s a weird thing to long for, but Huysmans’ pain at having missed this dance is very, very real. Unlike those of us today who long for truly ancient times, J.K. was born only a couple hundred years too late. So close he could taste it, and you can absolutely tell he tasted it when reading even his weaker works. But no, he wasn’t bitter. Huysmans viewed the lame times he was forced to exist in with an analytical but bemused eye. And he was never afraid to make fun of himself or his protagonists. I took this, tried to run with it, and fell flat on my face with Condominium. The book’s view of the current smartphone zombie society was never supposed to be angry. It wasn’t supposed to lash out. And even though it ended up being kind of angry and indeed lashed out at least a little bit, whatever restraint it showed is all owed to Messier J.K. I’ll do better next round, Huysmans. I promise.

Aleister Crowley: Moonchild (1929): Most people’s knowledge of Crowley can be boiled down to, “Wasn’t that the Satanist Jimmy Page worshipped?” And yes, Mr. Crowley was indeed the deceased Magick maverick who’s mysterious powers were summoned by the Wizard Page to harness Led Zeppelin’s ultra-decadent, unstoppable reign of evil greatness in the 70s. And yes, the story you heard is true. Jimmy did buy Crowley’s former estate on Loch Ness (cue visions of Nellie’s serpentine head emerging from the black waters) and all sorts of black magic hilarity ensued. People who know a little more about Crowley could tell you he was a New Age scholar well ahead of his time, a respected mountaineer, a filthy old man of the highest order, and the bald dude with intense eyes peering over Mae West’s shoulder on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But what barely anyone knows is that The Great Beast 666 was also a fine novelist. He only wrote a couple, with Moonchild being my personal favorite. This novel encompasses most of the best “L” words: Lush, Licentious, Libelous, Lovingly-crafted. As someone who has read this thing probably 100 times, there are still long stretches of pages where I have no idea what is happening. Crowley was all about ancient orders, little-known truths, dead languages, and unwritten wisdom, and he kept his prose stunning but mysterious. Wanting to know is what this book is all about, and it morphs into a different form each time you read it. Bravo, Great Beast. Bravo. And if you don’t see any clumsy esoteric leanings amongst all the modernism in Condominium, then you missed them. Fortunately for you.

Jane de La Vaudère: The Collection (1897-1903): Sweet, sweet Jane. There are only two images I know of depicting this author. One is a color pencil sketch showing Jane in an ultra-chic blue dress, her short brown locks frizzed-out in a way Bobby Dylan would later steal, and an ennui-infected blank stare accentuated by saucer brown eyes. The other is a black and white photo of Jane hard at work at an elegant desk with candle burning and a nude sculpture in her background, with a terrifying cougar skin rug spread out before her, its fangs and peeled open eyes menacing the camera. Although there is no way of knowing what she was scribbling away on in this shot, I’d like to think it was one of the three stunning works collected here: Les Androgynes, Le Demi-Sexes, and Les Sataniques. Although Jane may have been the pen name of someone named Jeanne Scrive, the daughter of a famous Parisian doctor, like most alter egos her new identity struck a truer chord. What inspires me about Jane is that, just like my friend J.K., she was once firmly rooted in that most treacherously dull of genres, Naturalism. To think that just five or so years before penning these wonderfully subversive, brilliantly controlled bursts of sheer decadence, she was mired in bleak reality, giving long, detailed rundowns of the ailments suffered by opium addicts on the streets. What Jane learned to do is incredibly important for any writer: She learned to love her subject matter. The voice of these works is a voice reborn, eyes open like that cougar skin rug, shedding the dour constraints of her previous genre and embracing the elusive fact that these things are fun. Being androgynous is liberating if that’s what you’re into. An anarchist throwing bombs can be way sexy. And worshipping Satan? Rock on with yo’ bad selves, les decadents. I would hope that Jane looms large over Condominium, not allowing this writer to get too somber or preachy, embracing and understanding the character’s flaws instead of wagging fingers at them, running down the disintegration of a relationship, a city, an entire modern civilization with an absurd sense of enjoyment. For she certainly isn’t watching over this piece.

Marquise De Sade: Juliette (1797): I once knew an individual who completed his Master’s thesis on De Sade. The fact that this individual eventually did some time in prison and is now a registered sex offender says pretty much all there is to say about the subject matter the Godfather of the Decadents was fond of. To say De Sade just wasn’t made for these times is like claiming it isn’t very pleasant to be set on fire, but then he wasn’t even made for his times, as his own prison record indicates. But the one thing that doesn’t get, ahem, touched on too often in all the movies and writings on De Sade is his masterfully controlled prose. During a time of cumbersome, flowery, overly decorated sentences that lurched slowly along like perfumed slugs, De Sade wrote with great economy and wit. His sentences slash across the pages like elegant knives, and what bleeds through is a gleefully wayward voice unmatched in its enthusiasm in all of literature. Unlike most writers, you can absolutely tell that De Sade was having a blast writing this stuff. He was absolutely loving every last minute of it. It was not a burden for him to compose this content. It was not a chore. And the joy it brought him was worth all that time in prison. So while I may not find sadism a turn on, I do find exuberance to be a thrilling and rare quality in a writer. Yes, I had fun writing Condominium, and if I’m not having fun writing something I discard it, and if even an ounce of joy bleeds through to the final product then I tip a powdered wig to De Sade for the inspiration.

The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov (1967): What if Satan were to appear in a Moscow park in the 1930s, flanked by a fast-talking tomcat that walked on his hind legs, a witch named Hella, a fanged assassin, and a butler dressed like Pete Doherty? What if this surreal crew then decided to wreak havoc upon the Russian literary elite? And what if this havoc was wreaked in revenge for a citizen who spent years composing a book about the death of Pontius Pilate and was driven mad by its rejection from this atheist literary world and locked away in a mental asylum? And what if his mistress was turned into a witch by the Satan crew and invited to the Devil’s Midnight Ball where committers of human atrocities arrive from hell and are paraded around the party like red carpet celebrities? And what if the climax of this novel is Pilate himself being released from eternal punishment and forgiven for his betrayal? Well, you would have the greatest novel ever written. This one was so good, in fact, that it was repressed for at least 30 years and didn’t find its way to print until the heady height of the 60s, where it would be best known for inspiring a less-wrinkled Mick Jagger to compose Sympathy For The Devil. But before you blame this novel for that annoying “Woo, Woo!” outro, know that it is a gorgeously composed, complex piece of sustained magical realism that careens and swoops with enough power to lift readers right up off their feet in its slipstream. I know this because it happened to me the first time I read it. This novel taught me the only lesson I ever needed to learn about fiction: Build a world, within a world, within a world, and within this foundation you cannot fail. As long as you’ve built each world true, then all the rest will fall into place naturally. In Condominium that world, within a world, within a world exists within 660 square feet of hardwood floors and modern appliances, on the 16th floor of a brand new condo highrise on the Williamsburg side of the East River. Since so much of the novel needed to take place within this small space, the worlds would have to converge there. Not only did the condo need to fit a newly-purchased set of furniture and Sarah’s collection of Stones records and her wooden voodoo head and Charles’ Cyanide Breakfast shrines, but it needed to fit the Devils’ Midnight Ball and the magic witch river and the Bald Mountain of the crucifixion as well. This is something they just don’t tell you on StreetEasy.com. And though I’m uncertain that these worlds were built completely true, if there is any multi-dimensional feel to Charles and Sarah’s pad then this is owed directly to the lesson shown to me by The Master. Also, special props are in order to Bulgakov for anticipating, in poet character Ivan Homeless, the rise of Bushwick artist homeless chic a good 50 years before it went down, and also for skewering smug, hardline Bill Mayer-style atheists long before the rise of smug, hardline atheist Bill Mayer. Re-spect.

For better or worse, these are the five tomes that were heavy on my mind during the scribing of Condominium. Even if you’ve never read Condo, or you despised it, I’d still recommend all six of these hallucinatory, sometimes mystical, sensually decadent light reads.

So in conclusion, yes, the novel was inspired by Bret Easton Ellis.

Cultured Vultures Review

Condo’s corpse didn’t get picked apart too hard by the Cultured Vultures. 7/10 on the review. Not bad.

Read here

condominium

7/10

Charles and Sarah, a bobo couple in New York City, buy a Manhattan condo worth almost one million dollars. Adjusting to the new life in their new home proves difficult. They find themselves in a rivalry with their strange and uptight neighbor, Raymond, Charles’s fear of heights makes him afraid of the view, and their relationship seems to be close to coming apart.

The publisher calls Falatko “the Millenial John Updike”, which I find very strange. Is it common practice for publishers to blatantly insult their authors like that? Condominium reminds me more of Jay McInerney and Mark Lindquist with its attempts to examine the zeitgeist, the ennui, the humor, and the pop cultural references.

The humor in this book is probably the best part about it. Nearly all of the jokes work. Take this moment towards the beginning when Sarah is complaining about the movers.

“I mean, how many nips of Southern Comfort does it take to forget how to open a door? And to just leave me a message about it? Guess they knew they weren’t getting a tip. I’d give them a bad Yelp review, but that’d be a little drastic. I’m sure there’s kids out there who need their child support.”

The fights Sarah and Charles have with their neighbor Raymond are also hilarious. Raymond’s uptightness makes him a great straight man to the couple’s bobo tendencies, but his strange behavior kept me interested in where this plot line would go. I’m avoiding spoilers, but it results in an interesting twist at the end.

Falatko does a good job of examining the couple’s neuroses as well. The cracks in the relationship between Sarah and Charles are done subtlety, as is the arc in which Charles tries to overcome his fear of heights.

“In his mind he had been standing on the balcony the entire time he moved toward it, without fear, to the point where when he really did exit the sliding glass door to stand upon the extension it didn’t feel like such a big deal.”

Despite that, summarizing the book reveals what I find to be the fundamental problem with it. It’s about an upper class New York couple having an existential crisis. Yay. I asked for this? Well, I agreed to review it, so I technically did. But I think you get what I mean.

The descriptions of Charles and Sarah’s everyday lives are pretty dull. My eyes glazed over at a lot of the conversations with their friends, their visits to bars, and the descriptions of their jobs. The humor kept it mostly readable, I can forgive a lot in a book if it makes me laugh, but there isn’t much revealed in their interactions that doesn’t make them seem like a pair of entitled hipster idiots. As uptight as the neighbor Raymond is, he makes legitimate complaints about their behavior. Your neighbor screaming in the middle of the night for no reason is perfectly reasonable to complain about.

This doesn’t read like a Bret Easton Ellis novel where the characters are clearly privileged morons scraping for meaning in decadence. It treats them like I’m supposed to learn something from them. The whole premise of this book is what people think of when they think of “literary fiction” in the worst possible way.

Upcoming Stuff

Got some events coming up this spring.

I’ll be at AWP 2016 at the LA Convention Center, slanging books and signatures with my man Leland (Sullivan Pong) Cheuk. Stop through from March 31st to April 2nd, Booth 206, if you happen to be attending this hellish industry showcase.

Back in Brooklyn, I’ll be reading at Grumpy Bert’s on April 29th. More details soon-ish.