Maybe it's only because I haven't left the house since a library run on Monday night, but I am having a terrible time articulating why I liked this book. I mean, I'm pretty sure I liked it. When I'm not enthralled with what I'm reading, I tend to find my life suddenly super-busy, with many interesting television shows to watch and decoupage crafts to make. If a book is really bad, that's when you'll find me wet-mopping floors and cleaning the bathroom. I hate giving up on a book, to the point that I will do chores to avoid having that awkward imagined conversation with an author in which I try to break the news as gently as possible that we're going to have to put this one down.
I didn't have to use any of those avoidance tactics with this book. I believe the ring in the bathtub and spit-propelled toothpaste spots on the mirror speak for themselves. Still, I haven't successfully identified the exact cause of my enjoyment. There are a fair number of lukewarm-to-scathing reviews on Goodreads, and I found myself nodding at the complaints being voiced. The ending was unsatisfying (yep). The narrator is a navel-gazer (yep). There's not much actual plot (yep). So why, if I agreed with all the criticism, was I still debating between a 3- and 4-star rating?
Do I like bad books? Am I a book recommender with bad taste? Should I focus my efforts on home décor, maybe learn to braid rugs?
Maybe the light reflecting off the piles of snow outside has addled my brain. Anything is possible. Here's what I've come up with, though: I really liked Ben Dolnick's voice. I liked his enthusiastic flinging-about of odd metaphors, even as I recognized that he was overdoing it. I liked seeing elements of my own childhood in the interactions between Adam, the narrator, and his strange, hapless friend Thomas. Reading about the two boys playing video games and making up code words for things made for some fun reminiscing. (Not that my friends and I were ever dorky enough to give our crushes glaringly obvious nicknames and use them in said crushes' presence.) Adam and Thomas seemed familiar to me, like they could have been boys I remember from elementary school. It felt like I was reading a book about someone I already knew well.
I understand, of course, that not everyone will have the same connection I did. However, you might still find yourself interested in the setup: Adam and Thomas, once close childhood friends, have grown apart over the years. The wedge between them is a single tragic moment that Adam has spent years avoiding and Thomas has spent years agonizing over. In their mid-twenties, Thomas's mother contacts Adam to ask if he will help track Thomas down in India, where he has gone to try to atone for what happened when they were kids. Adam's life isn't going too swimmingly at the moment either, so he agrees to go, leading to a long-awaited meeting and an opportunity for both to wrestle with their consciences.
Ultimately, I'll admit there are a few problems with Dolnick's book, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it, and perhaps you will too.