cover image Apathy, and Other Small Victories

Apathy, and Other Small Victories

Paul Neilan, . . St. Martin's, $17.95 (231pp) ISBN 978-0-312-35174-8

Like many a hip young literary antihero these days, the protagonist of this hilarious if aimless debut is sunk in slacker anomie. Shane has a monotonous temp job at an insurance agency, where he is supposed to alphabetize paperwork but instead spends his time sleeping on the toilet. After work, he is besieged by a gallery of grotesques: a vapid girlfriend who sexually brutalizes him; an absurdly macho neighbor with a leather-clad guinea pig for a sex slave; and his dentist's deaf assistant, who sings atonal karaoke, teaches him to sign obscenities and furnishes a wispy narrative thread by getting murdered. In a world both banal and assaultive, Shane can only drink, steal salt shakers and cultivate his sense of irony; "[t]here's only so much you can do," he shrugs, "and even that's not worth the trouble." Shane's malaise doesn't feel earned; job aside, there are just too many gonzo goings-on—the landlord, for instance, is paying him to have sex with his wife—for him to feel so listless. There's not much to Shane besides a defiant dejectedness, but from that Neilan spins many sparkling comic riffs on the tawdriness and sterility of American life. (May)