Despite alcohol abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and meagerly paid survival jobs, John pursues his vision of being a great writer and attends an M.F.A. program at Emerson College. That tension between reality and goal drives Rapczynski's overly long novel. John's choice of a gutter life plays against his ruminations on writing and writers. Rapczynski uses this discordance to contrast John's contempt for literature and writers with his desire to be one. If John is a fractured figure in a fractured world, his glimpses of academic writing programs reinforce the lack of positives. The bitchiness of the academic establishment may provide satirical insights to those who have sweated their way through the system, but John offers only a repetition of self-destructive behavior. A bartender's argument that writing classes are worthless may be an ironic reflection on John's observation that his thesis was an account of his drinking life. Although his message is often unclear, Rapczynski provides a complex picture of a self-absorbed underachiever pursuing a degree that he professes to disdain.