Matthew Vaber's father shot himself in the head. It's with this jarring bit of information that Galanes begins his first novel, which examines grief, relationships and self-reproach in a marvelously witty and winsome voice. While living in New York, Matthew racks up hefty phone bills dialing 555-PUMP, "New York's only phone line for men who are serious about their bodies." All it takes is a simple press of a key to be automatically connected to someone new, and Matthew leaves behind a trail of "victims of the pressed pound key," determined to find someone who is interested in him for something other than sex. Meanwhile, he keeps his shrink apprised of his fixation, knowing he's expected to somehow connect his behavior to his father's death. After Matthew is attacked during a Pump Line encounter gone wrong, he travels to Darien, Conn., to visit his uncle. Excited at the prospect of meeting a crop of posh, suburban Pump Line users, he dials up from his uncle's phone and eventually happens upon Henry, who is also from New York and visiting Darien. Henry is his "it" guy in every way, but is he too perfect? Matthew begins to feel like a caged animal even before their second date and naturally turns to the Pump Line again, along with the Downtown Club, a monument to anonymous casual sex. As he makes discoveries about himself and his family, Matthew comes to the unsettling conclusion that he might be the story's most "unreliable witness," which just might change his perception of his relationship with Henry and his response to his father's death. Galanes paints his characters with a light veneer of despair and an oftentimes tongue-in-cheek sentimentality in this appealingly hang-dog debut. Agent, Betsy Lerner. (June 1)
Forecast: Galanes's feel for the zeitgeist and his telephone fixation may remind readers of Julie Hecht's cultish novel The Unprofessionals (2003), and should appeal to a similar audience. The cable-knit sweater image on the jacket is fittingly quirky.