Monday, August 30, 2010

Here Comes Your Man by Derek Gentry

Here Comes Your Man
by Derek Gentry

If the blurb on your cover is going to invoke The Hornby — Nick Hornby, that is — you better be damn sure your book is up to the task. One cannot simply mention indie music they like and throw in a protagonist who unmaliciously screws up his relationships, then hope for the best. And at the very least, one must invite pre-publishing readers that won’t kiss your ass in effort to spare your feelings. Here Comes Your Man is not a bad book, but what it needs more than anything is an editor.

Beginning just before the new millennium, we find Garrett the burnt-out IT consultant who has spent three years traveling for work. He hasn’t dated anyone in quite some time, but he continually harbors fantasies of meeting that special gal in the airport. On his flight home to Seattle, he meets a woman who, while not available, inspires him to take a more active role in his love life. Problem is, he’s terrible at it. Take your most overeager puppy, give him an inferiority complex, and then give him an opportunity to yammer about it at length — Here comes your man, indeed. His blinding optimism mixed with desperation makes him believe that any woman who is momentarily nice to him might be the one with whom he should spend the rest of his life. Through a handful of new relationships, he begins to figure out what he finds important and what it means to truly be in synch with another person.

See, here’s the trouble with reviewing books (or insert your creative field here) in this modern world: If one has previously conversed or knows the creator in any way, one might feel like an asshole to criticize, however constructively, the work in question. Twitter and Goodreads make it easy to talk to other writers, and I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway from Gentry himself. He’d read this site before, and once again, the internet felt much smaller. I always want to enjoy what I read — I wouldn’t start something I didn’t think I would like at least in some small way — but I feel a certain responsibility when it comes to the person behind the books. Since I write, nothing annoys me more than intellectual wankfests where the critic wants to show how much better they are than their review material. I think it does a disservice to both the writer and the readers, and as such, I try to keep my reviews honest. That said, I hope any author who might stumble upon a review I’ve written will not take it personally. Sometimes, it’s not a problem with the book; it’s the time in which I read it.

This time, however, it’s the book. I feel like a jerk, but it’s true. While I remained interested in Garrett’s story, curious to know if he’d ever get it together, I found a lot of distractions along the way. The manuscript has typos, extraneous information about minor characters (their height, for instance — I don’t need to know the exact height of everyone unless it’s pertinent to the story), and overuse of certain words (“Well,” “Actually,” etc.). Some of the dialogue explained too much — characters gave away their back story at once, and the back story did not always relate to what was happening.

I could overlook some of that, were it not for the characters’ tones being so similar to one another. Garrett’s inner voice read more like a story one tells an acquaintance (even saying “you” to the reader a couple of times, but not enough to break the fourth wall as a style choice). He glosses over his situation and tries to be clever rather than getting to truth of the matter. In conversation, he is worse. That could just be chalked up to his neuroses, except that the other characters sound like him. If there wasn’t a “he said” or “she said” after some runs of conversation, I often had to go back and figure out who said what.

Insight into why Garrett has come to this point in his life does not come until the last eighty pages or so, which is too late for a 342 page book. There is a scene in a hospital where he allows the moment to hit him and he no longer tries to be clever, competent or strong. It’s the most honest, heartbreaking chapter, and I wished that the whole book could have sprung from this place in his past. He spends 200 pages ignoring why he can’t bear to be alone, and because of that the story loses its effectiveness.

Also good are the periodic moments of natural humor. He tells of an evening out in San Francisco with his co-worker, Kevin, in which they meet two transvestites locked out of their car. With two elaborate battles with a coat hanger, followed by dinner with the women, the evening becomes surreal, fun and one of his most satisfying moments traveling.

With more editing, Here Comes Your Man could be an entertaining tale about one man’s romantic and professional journey. As it stands, it’ll do well enough to pass the time in airports, listening to The Pixies.


This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends October 31, 2010.