Sunday, July 20, 2014
This Book Will Change Your Life - Conquistador of the Useless by the Joshua Isard.
We suppose there must be something out there called "Dick Lit." Said lit would be the spawn of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, who can legitimately be called out for exposing state secrets, and might be described as literature about men as boys not quite wanting to be men. Said lit is also required to touch on music, sometimes books, and lists, girls, escape, if not outright quest, outsiderness as cool, and the idea that John Cusack, bless his heart, is all we need to know or aspire to. Post-Dick Lit, there is the nebulous next stage in life, as well as, lit manhood, and books such as Fathermucker by the Greg Olear, which neatly, and brilliantly, capture this world. These books retain the same touchstones, but are a sort of coming of age tale for those who have already come of age, have found some kind of adult groove, are now faced with what comes next, and how any of it can possibly work out. Conquistador of the Useless by the Joshua Isard falls into this latter group, and in doing so, is rich in both detail and humor, and is not only hits the touchstones, music, lists, quests, etc., but fluidly creates a whole suburban world of marriage, office, neighbors, and aging, though not aged, parents. What's needed for these books to truly work though, is two-fold. First, there must be a new take on the old wrinkles, and in this, Isard is not only successful, but possibly prescient, in creating a protagonist who is all about work, and yet is comfortably striving for nothing more than happiness and contentment. Work is work, and necessity, certainly, but it is not life, nor intended to be anything greater than what we do day to day so we can do everything else, assuming we know what that is. Secondly, and harder to capture, the story must be authentic, or at least have moments that are so authentic, or real, that they elevate the tale beyond good writing and storytelling. Olear wrote several such scenes, including one in which the protagonist fulfills his quest after such a bad day of fathering that he, and we, are utterly amazed, and moved, he could do so. It is a scene that feels so real, it indeed elevates an already terrific book. Isard accomplishes this as well, and there is one scene that resonated with us in particular. The protagonist has made a connection with a young, female neighbor, actions that will always feel suspect, because they are always suspect, and then tells his wife that this young woman will someday be hot, something which is ultimately no different than saying she already is. When his wife calls him on this, he pleads ignorance, though there's no point in doing so. Like Hornby's best characters, he has spoken the unspoken, something men think, but shouldn't say, much less imply: in this case, the idea that really young women won't always be so young and men are all to aware of that. It is in speaking the unspoken where literature has the chance to take off, moving from good to great, and changing lives, even if only briefly at that.