Noah Van Sciver‘s oeuvre thus far is filled mainly with intensely human character studies. Equal parts existential and gritty, Van Sciver takes cues both from his own life and society as a whole, creating stories that depict modern working class life through various lenses. Here he takes on the pursuit of success “following your dreams”, only he makes it really hard to empathize with the story.
This novel’s main character Fante Bukowski barely qualifies to be called a “protagonist”. The man is an intensely selfish, grandly delusional starving artist type that may give more than a few readers a twinge of self-reflection. He’s desperately hoping for his big break into the world of literature, but keeps making poor decisions and generally being off-putting towards those who hold power over him.
The art is endearingly sloppy, and suits the subject manner very well. Van Sciver nails every character’s true nature with their facial expressions and the style is perfect for the sketchy literature scene he’s depicting.
The book joins the same sphere of media like Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where the main characters are purposely awful. The difference is that those are long-running television sitcoms where the end goal is strictly to make audiences laugh. There’s not really any sort of lesson to be gleaned from them. Here Van Sciver offers a few existential moments that hint at growth, but Bukowski never really learns anything from them. The novel is too short to allow for that to happen. It feels truncated and cuts off abruptly, leaving the reader feeling cheated out of a proper character arc.
That’s most definitely an artistic choice opining on the messy, unresolved nature of reality, but in this context it feels like a cop out because it shrugs off any notion of purpose in the story. Bukowski doesn’t grow or learn, he just has a few misadventures and remains selfish. A few moments of good fortune even fall into his lap, but he doesn’t deserve them and so we end up rooting against him and waiting for him to inevitably mess it up.
There’s been far worse protagonists before, but they’ve seldom been rewarded so well for so little development. As a standalone piece of work Bukowski’s arc is just too slight to merit being told. It ends up as just a series of uncomfortably entitled rants sandwiched between awkward interactions with power players. It’s very genuine, but it needs to be far longer to be worth a read.
Final Grade: B+