Gary Sernovitz, Author . Holt $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6777-4

In his rock-solid first novel about three Midwestern 20-somethings united by a shared loneliness, unhappiness and lack of self-awareness, Milwaukee native Sernovitz focuses squarely on his flawed but credible characters, chronicling their exploits with emotional honesty and bracing dark humor. Overweight, doggedly serious and unlucky with the ladies, Ed Steinke is a 24-year-old organ salesman who's modeled his professional persona on Alfred Orditz, a mostly forgotten sales maven of the 1950s. His brother, Barry, is a charming but shallow lothario, a would-be rock musician who packs his bags and calls it quits after a single demo-tape rejection. And Leila Genet is a painfully shy convenience store clerk, raised by a cold, stoical grandfather and now quick to flee from even the vaguest intimation of a relationship. The novel follows the lives of this disenfranchised trio for a single day, as Ed and Barry peddle their musical wares at a state fair, and Leila drops by to kill time on her day off. Sernovitz fleshes out each of his protagonists through extensive use of flashbacks, before bringing them together for a vivid finale that raises questions about emotional incompatibility, the inherent inadequacies of language and the limitless opportunities for miscommunication present in even the most innocuous and mundane of social interactions. Along the way, he displays a sharp ear for the tongue-tied ramblings of bright but inarticulate Gen-Xers, and a sophisticated, often playfully literary sense of humor. Describing Leila's first boyfriend, a slow-witted ex-football player, Sernovitz writes: "Rusty, she discovered, was a philosopher in the bedroom: sex with him was nasty, brutish and short." Although it can occasionally be slow-moving and self-important, Sernovitz's debut is a trenchant, often touching meditation upon isolation, despair and thwarted ambition. (Oct. 16)

Reviewed on: 09/03/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-312-42107-6
Ebook - 240 pages - 978-1-4668-7169-4
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