cover image The Transition

The Transition

Luke Kennard. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-27871-7

Poet Kennard’s sharp, witty debut novel is about a generation who can’t seem to launch themselves into adulthood. In the near future, Karl, a debt-ridden 30-something, keeps afloat by using his useless English degree in morally dubious ways, writing fake five-star consumer reviews and “bespoke” essays for college students. When one of his writing gigs lands him in legal trouble, he is faced with a choice: serve a prison sentence or enroll, along with his blameless wife, Genevieve, into “The Transition,” a rehabilitation program aimed at rescuing “a generation suffering from an unholy trinity of cynicism, ignorance and apathy.” Opting for the latter, Karl and Genevieve must move in with Transition mentors, Stu and Janna, who counsel the younger couple on everything from financial responsibility and new career paths to personal hygiene and reading habits: “We want you both to read a newspaper.... A part of you still feels that newspapers are for grown-ups and that you’re not grown-ups.” While Genevieve excels under Stu and Janna’s guidance, the hapless Karl chafes against the cultlike aspects of the Transition and, after a series of often amusing transgressions, humiliations, and punishments, seeks to expose it as a less-than-benevolent self-help program. Enlivened by crisp dialogue and Wildean epigrams (“That’s the problem with start to feel offended when someone insults you”), the novel splendidly hums along. Kennard calibrates satire and sentiment, puncturing glib diagnoses of a generation’s shortcomings while producing a nuanced portrait of a marriage as precarious as Karl’s finances. (Jan.)