Maynard & Jennica

October 16th, 2007 by Adrian

If not knowing what I’m reading has been keeping you awake nights, then this post will hit you like a prescription-strength dose of Ambien.  After plowing through Octavia Butler’s “The Kindred” in time for book club late last month, I picked up Rudy Delson’s debut novel, “Maynard & Jennica.”  Full disclosure: I went to school with Rudy about an eon ago, and we were both on the staff of the Stanford Chaparral.  Whether that makes me more likely to praise his writing or mercilessly mock the fruits of his labor in a belated, yet well-meaning display of bonhomie is (so far) up in the air.

But anyway.  For the first 150 pages or so, “Maynard & Jennica” breezes airily along, sketching outlines of the two main characters.  They have rich internal dialogues with themselves, and so by extension with you, the voyeuristic reader.  This is how you discover their endearing & quirky little peccadilloes and intellectual neuroses.  But you also get to know them through the eyes & ears of their friends, family members, building superintendents, subway conductors, et cetera.These point-of-view changes are presented in the style of an interview transcript, as if you the reader had just asked, for example, “What happened when that guy whom I know as Maynard Gogarty, but to you is just some random passenger in a white suit jacket and boater, got on the uptown No. 6 train that day?”  And in this way you not only are able to sift their personal illusions & misconceptions from reality, but you also get the chance to sympathize with them in a way that screening everything through their respective cognitively biased lenses pretty well prevents.

And that’s pretty much that.  The peccadilloes are successfully portrayed as both (a) endearing, and (b) amusing.  The writing itself is actually quite lovely and subtly witty, loaded with nice tone-setting imagery (drooling snowdrifts, sizzling wok armpits, and other metaphorical turns of phrase, some of which involve neither liquids nor body parts).  There are also a few gems of one- or two- page essays on topics such as the Jungian architectural shame of the South SF Bay Area, subway etiquette, and the ranges of sexual expression demonstrated by NYC’s female populace.

Very little actually happens, though.  Less worldly reviewers may be tempted to draw strong (& possibly flattering) parallels between the first 150 pages of “Maynard & Jennica” and the work of other Jewish comedic stylists… say, Jerry Seinfeld, or Woody Allen.  Those people are probably just West Coast goyim who think that anything (1) taking place in NYC, (2) using mundane events as launching points for (3) introspective revelation of human frailty couched in comedic banter is all painted with the same brush.  Those people are of course idiots, and their opinions naturally won’t be expressed in this much more sophisticated review.

Still, it’s fair to say that nothing really happens for the first half of the book.  Or rather, exactly one thing really happens.  It happens right at the start, and the next 145 pages retroactively set the stage for this event.  (I’m not speaking in generalities for fear of spoiling the first five whole pages of the book for you, btw.  There’s just no point in getting into details that’ll raise more questions than they answer.)

Once you get all caught up to the present, a funny thing happens.  This book, which up till now has been very amusing, well-crafted, and largely forgettable, suddenly becomes a real love story.  Stuff starts to happen, and that stuff demands your attention because the characters stop being blithely dysfunctional in a charming but ultimately irrelevant way.  They start acting & behaving more like people who actually have something on the line, and who aren’t wrapped too deeply in layers of post-modern disassociation expressed by way of a superiority complex to realize it.

Obviously this is when the book really takes off.  What “Maynard & Jennica” ends up delivering is a compelling perspective on romance for (and here is where the buzzwords start to creep in) Gen-X’rs who grew up inundated with media that encouraged ironic detachment as the ultimate form of maturity.  It’s not “deep.”  It’s not going to make you question your life.  But it’s a pretty damn good first novel, it’s consistently funny, and it’s worth a read.

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