cover image The Bachelor

The Bachelor

Andrew Palmer. Hogarth, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-23089-3

In this intriguing debut, Palmer expands a modest tale of writerly lassitude into an ambitious account of high and low culture. After the unnamed narrator splits with his girlfriend, a fellow novelist, he retreats from Halifax to a rented house in his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. There, he is more interested in watching a season of The Bachelor than writing. He muses on the show’s surreal setup and the roles the contestants inhabit, which often afford them second chances at love or at least stardom. (Luckily, these analyses are generally brief and restrained enough not to come off as intellectual preening.) If The Bachelor is the narrator’s lowbrow obsession, he also delves into the life and work of confessional poet John Berryman, with whom he feels he shares the mission of “trying to make things matter.” Soon enough, the narrator has a full romantic slate consisting of an intense epistolary courtship with an acquaintance in Detroit, a cautious flirtation with a recent college graduate, and an affair with his landlord (who happens to be a family friend). Readers will recognize in the narrator a well-worn type: intelligent, aimless, self-absorbed, and romantically slippery. Nonetheless, Palmer’s unexpected juxtapositions and probing spirit make this an original portrait of a lovelorn dreamer. (July)