Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: The Zeroes by Patrick Roesle

from here
True story: I met Pat Roesle, author of The Zeroes,  in a diner in New Jersey a couple years ago. He had worked at a Border's with my then girlfriend, now wife.

Also true: While my wife chatted about hometown stuff with the other folks at the table, Pat and I discussed William Carlos Williams' This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

My position was, and still is, that the speaker is a prick, and that if your significant other ever eats the food in the fridge that he/she knows you are probably saving for breakfast, you have every reason to expect that person to drive you to the nearest diner and feed you.

Also true: My now-wife and I were not in the diner because one of us had eaten the other's potential breakfast.

Final true story: I'm a big fan of Pat's blog.

So now you know the background. You know why I read Pat's book, why I've spent a couple weeks thinking about what to say about it, and why I'm willing to admit to not being able to get beyond my biases. Still, from here on out, he's Roesle, the author. I want to talk about his book, which I think you should read. If I'm lucky, I'll even manage to talk about the things that The Zeroes made me think: about being young, about writing while young, about writing about memory.

Because I like The Zeroes despite its flaws.

Here's the briefest synopsis:
Boy meets girl at a wonderful time of life, when everything is going up for boy and boy's friends who are in a band. Then things stop going up, girl stops seeing boy, and everyone tries to move on.

Above all else, it's a story of the power of nostalgia to gloss periods of our lives, especially when the words first and love are used in the same sentence. How youth can make crummy everyday life feel limitless. It reminds me of Nabokov's Mary, which I read in between bouts with The Zeroes.

Unlike the young Nabokov, Roesle doesn't try to use flashbacks to recapture his narrator's lost love, instead he takes us through the relationship day by day. It allows us to feel more connected to the relationship, but it also gives the book a certain plodding feeling- first person narrator, simple progression from event to event. When I think about first person books I love (Good Morning Midnight leaps to mind, as another seeped in professional and personal failings), there's almost always a flashback dynamic.

And we really do get to live with the unnamed narrator. His world is painfully detailed, though I often wished those details (like the recurring references to underground and semi-underground ska bands) had been showing details, rather than listings of names. It was a feeling I had when reading Perks of Being a Wallflower a year ago.

The narrator's friends are alternately manic to escape their suburban dungeon and listless prisoners, a Jersey feeling I recognized. The "Zeroes" of the title is as much a reference to the characters as to the decade from 2000 to 2009 the story is meant to reflect.

As I read, I thought a lot about This is Just to Say. I wonder what early drafts of it looked like. Likewise, I'm glad I already loved Nabokov before I read his first book, just as I'm glad I loved Vonnegut before listening to While Mortals Sleep. First books are tricky thing, and much easier to read in retrospect. See there? the author has already begun to develop a cadence for his voice, develop themes for his works, develop structure for his story.

I hope that in a few years, when Roesle's next work has been published, we'll be able to compare it to The Zeroes, see his growth as a writer and see how he's continued to explore the disenfranchisement of middle class youth in the 21st century.

Book 45 of my book-a-week challenge.

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