cover image Early Sobrieties

Early Sobrieties

Michael Deagler. Astra House, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-66260-224-5

A young man surfaces from the depths of alcoholism in Deagler’s pitch-perfect debut novel. Dennis Monk, 26, is seven months sober and determined to reconnect with the community he left behind in Bucks County, Pa., where he grew up before moving to Philadelphia for college. His Irish Catholic parents are skeptical, though, and they kick him out of the house after he fails to find gainful employment. Thus ensues a winding trek across Philly, whose blocks remain awash in Dennis’s memories even as the pace of gentrification picks up. Between bed-hopping among new and old flames, he reconnects with friends he’d grown estranged from and takes on odd jobs for which he’s semiqualified (after helping a new homeowner remove unsightly shag carpeting, he falsely identifies the uncovered flooring as solid oak). Dennis’s years of drinking and working in dive bars and his blue-collar background anoint him with a wizened and wry outlook on the rapidly transforming city (one neighborhood is “quickly becoming another charm in Philadelphia’s hipster bracelet,” invaded by “the sons of lawyers and pediatricians who aspired to look like the sons of miners and farmers”). Deagler is even better when Dennis looks inward, weighing his precarious liberation from booze (“A substance so wholesome they served it in church”). This is a standout. Agent: Samantha Shea, Georges Borchardt, Inc. (May)