cover image Nietzsche and the Burbs

Nietzsche and the Burbs

Lars Iyer. Melville House, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-61219-812-5

In this devastatingly withering follow-up to 2014’s Wittgenstein Jr., Iyer turns his keen eye and sharp sense of humor to the suburbs. There’s a new boy in the London suburb of Wokingham, recently transferred from a posh private school after he lost his scholarship. He’s taken in by his new high school’s resident group of misfit creative types, who name him Nietzsche, after his pseudo-deep blog and the giant NIHILISM scrawled across his notebook. Though one of the misfits, Chandra, an Indian boy with creative writing ambitions, is technically the narrator, the novel is written from a plural first-person perspective that folds together Chandra’s voice with those of his friends, all of whom are deeply devoted to two things: their death metal band and cynicism. Nietzsche, then, is the perfect lead singer for a band that makes “the music that comes after music. Fucking ghost music, man.” Despite their cynicism and aversion to any platitudes, the nihilist heroes discover the sincere thrill of being young in high school, as they run through a gamut of heartbreaking, hilarious, and exhilarating experiences with love, drugs, and the immediate and terminal future. The individual characters tend to get lost in Iyer’s dense narration, and they are occasionally too clever for cleverness’s sake. But readers will be endeared by Iyer’s skillful portrayal of their deep tenderness and uncertainty despite it all, even if they’d hate for readers to know it. (Dec.)