Sad Movies by Mark Lindquist (Atlantic Monthly Press: $6.95; 161 pages)
If we're lucky, we usually have no more than two--one friend, one relative--who sit in the passenger seat of our car as we drive them on an errand we don't want to be doing anyway. These relatives or friends love to rant at us, rhetorically, with the endless energy of the truly demented: "Just tell me why ! Why should I go on living? Just give me one reason for it! I want to know one reason! Why should I go on living!?!"
To most of us, trying, as we are, to make a left turn in traffic, or pay off our MasterCard, or get to the kids' soccer game on time, this seems less a philosophical question than an exercise in torture. To say, simply: "I can't think of a reason, I'm absolutely clueless about why you (or I) should go on living," seems an ill-mannered invitation to them to commit suicide. But the obvious answers won't do for them; they've already looked into family, friends, nature, love, children and already walked out on all of that, like so many bad movies.
The feeling is with these people, they've invented suffering. The human condition only applies to them, and anyone who doesn't go around asking the rhetorical question "just tell me why ?" blah blah, is not well brought-up but someone stupid enough still to love life.
"Sad Movies" is written off this philosophical grid. For the first 70 pages the reader will think he's trapped in the literary world with a clone of Brett Easton Ellis--which could very easily give rise to another set of rhetorical questions: "Just tell me why I have to read another book about a spoiled, handsome brat who drinks the best Scotch and snorts the best coke and writes one line a day for a living and has sex with two girls at once but his real girlfriend still loves him, and he has loyal friends, a good diet, lives by the beach in an elegant apartment, and all he can think of is suicide ?"
Because that's what the first 70 pages here sets up. It's terrible to trash the heroes of first novels because they may be related a little too closely to their authors, but it's very hard not to get irritated with the overwhelmingly narcissistic Zeke, an old man of 25 who hates his job, his friends, his apartment, his girl, his life so much that all he can think of is suicide. All Zeke can think of, really, is himself.
Then, somewhere after Page 70, an old school friend who's been dabbling in mysticism sails in to help Zeke out of his misery. Like Zeke, Y. J. Ogvassed has been orphaned by the goings-on of the '60s; by parents who have bailed out on their responsibilities, leaving Zeke and Y. J. emotional orphans. But Y. J. has a healthy love for life. He takes Zeke on a healing odyssey that goes from the homey (those individual toasters on every table at Ships Coffee Shop) to the ineffable cliffs of Big Sur.
Little by little (but within the space of a week) Y. J. weans Zeke away from a coke habit and his obsession with suicide. Y. J. also gives Zeke a second birthday party, another chance at another life, and the opportunity to have an adventure--kidnaping a couple of puppy dogs from the local pound.
So life is worth living again, and Mark Lindquist turns out not to be a clone of Brett or Jay or Tama. But there's something distressing about "Sad Movies" and it has to do with that little matter of self. After Zeke chooses not to kill himself, he decides to confide in his girlfriend: "I tell her the story. What I see and what I feel. . . . I also try to summarize, knowing she's bright and can fill in the blanks, but it's getting light by the time it's all been said."
Pretty soon Zeke should say, "Well that's enough about me. What do you think about me?" Or else he'll have to go back to: "Just tell me why , blah blah blah." Life is made up of more than one person. More particularly, a novel should be more than just a monologue, however imaginatively wrought.