cover image The Enthusiast

The Enthusiast

Charlie Haas, . . Harper Perennial, $13.99 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-06-171182-4

A Hollywood screenwriter turned novelist, Haas shows a skilled literary hand in his sharp first novel about college dropout Henry Bay, who turns into something of a serial associate editor at a series of fringe magazines, beginning with a stint at one geared toward kite buggy enthusiasts. From there, Henry bounces around the country taking low-paying editing jobs at enthusiast rags with such themes as crocheting, ice climbing and conspiracy theories. The compelling side characters are central to the novel's charm. These include Gerald, Henry's talkative friend, and Henry's brother, Barney, who transforms from a science prodigy and stem cell researcher into a secretive adrenaline junkie who may be on the hit list of Freebird, a Unabomber-like domestic terrorist. Haas plunges Henry into bizarre nooks where hobbies become obsessions and subsubcultures are formed, but the characters encountered aren't dismissed as freaks; rather, they're examined with a near curatorial zeal. Though the narrative could stand to go a little deeper into Henry's motivations, overall this is a slick first novel: funny, thought provoking and a little alarming. (June)