It’s been a few months since I read ALMOST HOME, the (sort of?) romantic comedy of a novel by my old friend Frank Marcopolos, and I still don’t know what the hell to write about it, so I’m winging it here. What the hell is this book about?
I could always ask Frank, since I’ve known him for a decade and a half, but a. That would be too easy, and b. That would also be too hard, since Frank is an inscrutable smartass, and he likes it that way.
For the AN community: No, this isn’t a natalist novel, but to say more would be to ruin the uniquely paced ending. Suffice it to say that Frank isn’t likely to wind up in the Daily Mail next to the Octomom anytime soon.
Jesus, I still don’t know what to say. When I started on the first few pages of this book all I could think was, “Where is Frank, and why the is the person who kidnapped him writing rom-coms about dipshit college kids in his name?” Granted, Salinger was nowhere near Holden Caulfield’s age when he wrote Catcher in the Rye, but by the time we’re in our [mumble lateearly mumble]-ies most writers have found less weary ground to tread than “college brats getting shitfaced, and then they fuck.” But it quickly gets weirder than that. [EDIT: By “weirder,” I meant “more interesting. Not sure if that was clear.]
Yes, this is technically a rom-com; the protagonist spends most of the book chasing/being chased by/engaging in various folies a deux with a couple of girls, one wife material, the other a psycho-sex-fantasy beast of whom he winds up being very afraid (not that his little head isn’t still obsessed with her). It’s also a bildungsroman, a satire, a conspiracy theory, a grotesque parody, thoroughgoingly entertaining, and a sports novel.
It’s also a pair of parallel character sketches. The villain, or what passes for one here, starts out as an old-fashioned snob from the snobs-and-slobs genre (see REVENGE OF THE NERDS). Barry Budski is rich, blustering, and happy to humiliate anyone he needs to.
But Budski is so miserable that you eventually feel sorry for him, oiled moustache and all. He quickly gets swamped in his own bizarro Illuminati web, spun mostly from his daddy issues, and in doing so drags the whole book into a parallel (or not?) universe in which frat houses are fronts for failed financial empires. Frank has clearly done time as a subject of Bush II. I don’t know if that was what he was consciously thinking when he wrote this character, but he is a native of the U.S., where our last two national figureheads, come to think of Obama’s autobiography, have been as full of Daddy issues as a stripper (oh yeah, a stripper dies in the opening act, by the way).
The protagonist, Enzo Prinzatti, is clearly a slob, though he also wavers in his devotion to his role in the great shipwreck of life for a while; his vacillation between archetype and individuation mirrors Budski’s. I’ve read a review of ALMOST HOME that dragged out the hoary and obnoxious old dismissal: “The main character is unsympathetic.” Unless we’re talking about horrible Lena Dunham’s horrible GIRLS— which is hardly a piece of writing, so to speak—this nearly always translates into Annish as “I am unable to admit to the basic horrors of my own being as a human, and prefer to read morality plays which flatter my sense of what being me means.”
Yep, he’s a slob, and yes, he makes a few (a few? Try a neverending stream of) terribly clumsy and self-sabotaging, cringe-making bad moves; at times it reminds me of PEEP SHOW. Even when he quits trying to drink himself through to a higher state of messing up the rom-com plot, he keeps stumbling ahead with his graphically, sympathetically portrayed fear of commitment, a fear that in standard rom-coms is made light of or treated as a fixable disease. Prinzatti is so terrified that he torpedo vomits. Most of the time he’s fully aware that what he’s doing is incredibly stupid but, puppet-like, he’s driven by forces that are both in him and beyond his control. Kind of like a Ligotti character, except more comically gamboling, even more helpless, and pathetically, I’m-just-a-dude-with-a-dream hopeful.
And just before Enzo lurches into the pen of his final destiny, the thing suddenly turns into a grotesque parody of the Iliad. Yeah. I mentioned that this is a baseball novel, right? In Prinzatti’s final attempt to thwart the Fates who use him for their own sport—whatever the hell the rules to THAT sport are, if there are any—he thwarts himself after injuring his Achilles tendon (get it?) by sending his little buddy Patroski (sound familiar?) in to pitch against a guy who’s blatantly called Hector and whom only Prinzatti could beat.
It does hold together, it’s a wonderful read, but I give up on trying to coherently explain it right there. It’s available HEEEEEEERE. As always, Kindle books are readable on any computer, so if you can read this, you can read that.