Ludlow Press, 2003 (ISBN 0971341591)
Every so often, a novel comes along that makes me proud to be a Gen-Xer, a novel where the images, dialogue, and subtle portrayal of feelings perfectly capture the oddities of our lives and relationships and in such a way we look at each character and say, "I know her," while empathizing with the protagonist as he stumbles along. Richard Perez's The Losers' Club is just such a book. Set in early '90s East Village New York, it follows the story of Martin, a frustrated poet who keeps a mound of rejection letters like a trash sculpture in his apartment. Martin also is struggling to succeed at work with his dreadful and tedious job, and in love, where even his ad in the Voice personals often only leads to comical replies like this:
Finally: Beep! "Hiiii!" began a bright female voice. "My name is Monserrat.
Really loved your ad. Thought it was the coolest. You sound really special. It's
hard to meet someone who's, um, bright but not mmm, y' know, really boring? Um,
I can see by your ad that you're interested in writing and books, the arts. Hmm,
well. Me? I guess you can say I'm into film, right now. I'm hot on Italian movies.
Early Bertolucci, especially. Um, I went to Columbia University, received my M.A.
in film studies two years ago. Currently I'm working toward my Ph.D. I'm twenty-
six years old. An aerobics instructor in my spare time. Five foot four, a hundred
and ten pounds. Long auburn hair; long and straight. Eyes, mmm, soft blue. My
measurements since we're on the subject? Thirty-six, twenty-four, thirty-four."
She giggled, pausing. "Oh, and as far as what I read? I'm very much into Gabriel
Garcia Marquez and the South Americans. So? Let's talk. My number is -- "
Martin flung aside some sheets to grab a pencil. To his distress, the receiver
momentarily popped from his ear; he caught it against his arm and hastily drew it
back up, barely cupping it in time for the last four digits: 1-0-9-2.
He grimaced, jotting these down.
Her voice returned: "Again, my number -- "
Martin brightened -- ready -- pencil poised.
At last: "1-900 555-1092."
His expression fell.
"Only $2.95 a minute," she cooed. "Just a ten minute minimum!"
He sat there, the receiver plastered to his ear.
She went on sprightly: "You're over eighteen, riiight?..."
Most of the book takes the journey with Martin as he struggles to find romance. Or, if not romance, at least someone he can talk to, hang out and share his thoughts and feelings with. For the most part, there are three who enter and leave his life at random, their descriptions again the types of women true Gen-X'ers will read about and say, "I know her!": the Goth chick who asks questions like "Do you believe in vampires?" while coming on hard and heavy; the emotionally scarred woman who seems predestined to always return to her former boyfriend and rebuild a former bad relationship; the bi-sexual who is so confused her future seems uncertain in more ways that one. Perez depicts all these characters with the skill of a video camera, catching their movements, their voices, their emotions so flawlessly it becomes easy to walk with these characters, to nod as they speak and tell them, "I understand."
This books fits in neatly along with classics like High Fidelity and Ethan Hawke's first novel, The Hottest State. It is funny and sad at the same time, which is to say, insightful. A truly fun read all the way though, the story is at once compelling and exasperating, just like life for the Gen-X crowd. Perez writes with the beauty and power of personal experience. His prose is sharp but simple, with just the right amount of coyness. He reveals dialogue smoothly. It would be hard to find anything in writing the human that fails to do well. Overall the book reads with so much ease it seems easy to forget it's a book.
If there is a flaw in the book, it would have to be the title, which never gets fully explained, or mentioned, really. There is no club per se; just a group of women Martin goes out with. And Martin is not really a loser so much as simply lost. Just like the rest of us. Maybe that is why we are destined to feel for him, to connect with him, and to hope when he hopes, and sometimes when he doesn't.
An excellent first novel and a worthwhile read!
Recommendation: This is the perfect novel for anyone tired of waiting for the next hit from Nick Hornsby, and doubly so for every lonely wanderer who believes his failed relationships are so weird that no one else can possibly relate. Perez does relate, and he proves it with a subtlety and charm rarely seen in hipster prose. Buy this book! A must!