The Abstract: Tales of Wickedness and Sorrow
In Goodloe Byron's The Abstract, a sex-starved expatriate named Brandon pisses through his money on disappointing food and gin and, in the process, offers Bukowskian meditations from his dimly lit hotel room where he spends the greater part of the novel. The blue-collar protagonist stands constantly at odds with a longing to achieve intellectualism while being crippled by sloth and carnal longings-porn and booze. His attempts to be a writer dwindle into botched plagiarism and a novel containing one page. In between various failed efforts at escaping his pedestrian hard-wiring lies broad canyons of tedious inventory on everything from the comings and goings of hotel employees-which at times can be chuckle-worthy-to the aggressively mundane play-by-play of snack-machine encounters.
Brandon also offers a barrage of never-ending field reports from his hotel room, which witnesses about as much excitement as a buried telephone booth-you can only hear about the "pile of clothing at the end of the bed" so many times before it becomes background noise. These observations are initially the spice that sweetens the sauce, but these things have a way of dissipating after the 18 millionth time.
While much of the novel focuses on such solipsism, Byron does offer up some comedic variety with Brandon's daily itinerary, which includes the charming thievery of continental breakfast and unwatched cocktails as well as occasional trips to the grocery store that always end in rejection from foreigners and women. These scenes, which are unfortunately infrequent, are coupled with a hilarious internal dialogue that is as self-effacing as Woody Allen monologues and as pompous as Sting with a bad case of hubris.
Although this self-deprecation works, it doesn't feel like the payoff you deserve after sitting through pages of carpet-fiber descriptions, but that's the point here. Byron is attempting to translate Brandon's hollow disenchantment. It comes across but takes up too much real estate in the process, pages that could be used more productively to flesh out this character, who becomes a reactionary after the first few chapters. Despite the book's obvious satirical tone and the intimation that you should read Brandon as somewhat cartoonish, you're left feeling a bit teased and unfulfilled-Byron, however, has promise. (Ed Schrader)