In a life without extremes, how do we prove our mettle? With death no longer lingering in our nostrils, what room is there for heroism? Well… Until we start pulling babies out of burning buildings, we can at least be good. We can be ditsy, dippy, dappy – but all the while, goooood. Indeed this is the formulae for those comedies wherein decent people end up in a tizz – their basic goodness prevents them from taking an axe to the mess, and the ensuing drama is about some eminently avoidable clusterfuck-in-a-teacup, whipped up by simply trying to keep everyone happy. Add to that an overthinking, neurotic and slighty nerdy Jewish guy, et voila – you end up with Woody Allen or Seinfield. Or the hero in Adam Thirlwell’s latest novel, Lurid & Cute.
The opening sortie is simply brilliant: a man wakes up in a strange room, next to a woman who is not his wife, and who is unconscious and bleeding. Slam-dunk… But from such heights the story, and the main character, are slowly reduced to something resembling a Woody Allen sketch.
The central story takes shape subtly and cleverly, and posits a genuinely interesting idea: that a man can love two women. The natural starting point for this is of course aversion – deep feelings for one’s wife, as well as one’s best friend / one-time lover, must be dismissed as irreconcilable. But through ebb and flow, the impossible can become possible. All you have to do is roll with it. Not be so hard on yourself. Take some Class A’s, bum around a bit and explore alternate moral codes. But all the while, remain basically goooood. (The author underscores this rather annoyingly, by describing way too many things as ‘sad’).
The core of Lurid & Cute is undeniably strong and the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. Moreover, whilst the story of a listless twenty-something is hardly new, Thirlwell has injected freshness into something that could’ve seemed derivative. But for the, ahem, beyond twenty-something reader, it may not pack the same punch. Yes it’s kooky, yes it’s cute (and sometimes even lurid), but the tangential threads are often, well – listless: meandering, overworked and banal. Consequently, the central story, at times, lacks thrust. It becomes vulnerable to seeming over-indulgent; the centripetal force snapping back to a protagonist who can appear too wet for such attention.
Any Cop?: Several times I felt like putting the book down. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t.