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Oct 20

Book Review: Lurid & Cute by Adam Thirlwell

Bottom Line 

A tiresome novel that feels like it was published in the 90s with its neurotic middle class white guy (unemployed) looking for meaning in his life while he obsesses over his wife and lover.  Avoid.

Representative Paragraph

Middle class guilt…

Like only recently I had been in a burger place at whose counter a woman was being asked by her many small children to buy them fries, and it was very obvious she was embarrassed by this problem that she could not afford to buy them all food, so she bought one miniature portion for the horde of them. And therefore when I came to purchase my own fries and chocolate milkshake, proudly I added the appropriate number of multiple fries to my order and brought them over to her table, where she looked at me in hatred. They’ve already eaten? she said with that total disgust intonation. So I retreated with my many fries and in my shame I ate them all, then hated myself for eating them.

Commentary

If I’d been smart I would have given up on Adam Thirlwell’s Lurid & Cute about ten pages into the novel.  But for some reason I kept thinking that the paranoid and obsessive thoughts of Thirlwell’s protagonist would reach a crescendo, that there would be a moment where the penny would drop and I’d understand what this book was actually about.  If that moment happened then I was on a different bus because aside from a handful of evocative passages, Lurid & Cute would have to be the most pointless and indulgent novel I’ve read this year.

What’s ironic about this is that I read Lurid & Cute straight after finishing and loving Satin Island a novel that’s also been decried by some (AKA readers’ on Goodreads and Amazon) as an aimless book that’s too clever for its own good.  And yet I loved Satin Island partly because it’s a book about ideas, partly because of the penultimate chapter (you’ll need to read my review) and partly because McCarthy foreshadows early in the novel – or report – that he won’t be providing the reader with any epiphanies or resolutions.  In contrast I found Lurid & Cute pointless because while it does have a structured plot the events which occur and the way they are expressed are dull and unengaging.

The novel opens with Edison Lo, our first person protagonist, waking up in a hotel room beside his sleeping friend Romy who also happens to not be his wife.  After a short jaunt outside – where Ed kvetches about how much he loves his wife, and how sleeping with Romy was wrong, but also how much he really likes her  – he comes back to the hotel to find his friend bleeding from her nose.  At first Ed believes that Romy is dead and so he panics about how he’ll dispose of her body, but when she shows signs of life he panics about how he’ll get her to the hospital without his wife Candy finding out.  Ed’s overwhelming sense of anxiety, which is written as stream of consciousness with splashes of screenplay-style dialogue (and which according to one literary critic is stylistically reminiscent of Milan Kundera and Haruki Murakimi) sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

After this frenetic, neurotic opening we learn that Ed is unemployed and living with his wife at the home of his rich parents.  Much of his angst derives from the fact that he can’t find anything meaningful to do with his day – well, aside from having an affair.  When an old friend, Hiro, pops into Ed’s life, things go from aimless to aimless but now with added fake guns.  Hiro, it would seem has this penchant for holding up hair salons and bars with facsimile weapons.  Ed, with nothing better to do, follows along with Hiro’s crazy hobby.

At this point you should be getting a clear picture of the sort of novel Lurid & Cute is.  If you need additional evidence then I should probably add that the book features a Jewish mother constantly nagging Ed about his lifestyle choices and long, drawn out passages were Ed expresses his guilt and anxiety at both loving his wife and not wanting her to leave him while also utterly adoring Romy.  Add in a dash of the classic male fantasy – an orgy where Candy and Romy fuck each other while Ed watches – and I think you can start to draw some accurate conclusions about the book sight unseen.

While I read Lurid & Cute I wondered whether the novel was a parody of the middle class white person angst narrative; that Thirlwell was lampooning the sort of highbrow fiction that drapes itself in off-putting structure, manic prose and characters that bear no relation to anyone alive or dead.  But as I continued to slog through Ed’s neuroses, specifically the way his mind wanders back to the same topics again and again, I realised that Lurid & Cute wasn’t a satire at all.  It was just a truly dreadful novel.

Andrew Ervin ends his New York Times review of Lurid & Cute stating,

In inhabiting the narrator’s deranged mind so well, and sharing it with us, Adam Thirlwell offers his own evidence for a literary truth: that great characters need not be likable, only fascinating.

I agree that characters need not be likable, but Ed is as far from fascinating as I am from winning next year’s Man Booker prize.  If there is a literary truth in this novel it’s that privileged characters like Ed who can exist on the goodwill of their rich parents and patient wife are as innovative and complex and intriguing as a prawn cocktail.

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