cover image At Dawn

At Dawn

Jobie Hughes. Soft Skull, $15.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-59376-449-4

A self-destructive young man tries to escape from a dark past and a bleak future in this workmanlike debut literary novel from Hughes. After the financial collapse, twenty-something Stratton Brown leaves New York for Chicago, seeking to rebuild his life. Determined to be a writer, Stratton finds a mentor in Gene, a gruff landlord, and falls in love with the waifish Carolyn, an abused runaway. As he struggles to land a job and salvage his future, flashbacks reveal Stratton%E2%80%99s impoverished Ohio youth with a loving mother and a violent father whose unforgiveable crime has left deep scars. Stratton%E2%80%99s Chicago trials invoke memories of the past, while self-pity, jealousy, and anger threaten to consume him. Hughes%E2%80%94whose collaboration and dispute with James Frey (I Am Number Four) were detailed in New York magazine%E2%80%94combines coming-of-age tale, portrait of the artist as a young man, and father-son saga in a well-crafted novel that is ultimately marred by a familiar plot, too-perfect characters, heavy-handed morals, and an obsessive symmetry. But offsetting these problems are pathos, wit, and insight into the relationships that define our lives. Agent: Jennifer Lyons. (Oct.)