--Sort of. It's not for me to recommend that you actually buy this book since I got a copy absolutely free. What are they charging for this thing? Twenty, twenty-five bucks? There are very few books worth that much money in my opinion and this isn't one of them--at least I'd never have paid that much for it. That's not to say it's a bad book, it isn't; it's actually a good book, a book well worth reading, interesting, absorbing, original, and, in its own peculiar way, heartfelt. I just don't think its worth more than say five dollars.
Vaughn is a guy of nearly fifty. He's living in a post-Katrina coastal town with a somewhat rough-around-the-edges gal named Greta, who was once a suspect in the murder of her abusive ne'er-do-well husband. They have a housemate, Eddie, a one-armed Gulf War veteran who's a bit on the edgy crackpot side. Vaughn used to be an architect; now he's not much of anything. Since his divorce, he's been drifting through middle age into oblivion. His flaky ex-wife gets herself into some trouble and asks Vaughn to move back in with her until she gets herself straightened out. He can bring along Greta and even Eddie. That gives you some idea of how flaky she is. That Vaughn, Greta, and Eddie accept this absurd offer gives you some idea of the sort of quirky, eccentric, never-to-be met-in-real-life characters they are, too.
Anyway, this damaged and dysfunctional "family" attempt to come to peace with themselves, each other, the world, and the whole big messy enchilada of life. It's all a bit preposterous in a Seinfeldian way but this is fiction, after all, and, like most things, if you don't look at it too closely and pick everything apart, it makes sense in an exaggerated way.
Barthelme has a distinctive style--rather stark, staccato, elliptical. He does that affectless, emotional flatline things familiar to readers of Brett Easton Ellis and his ilk. Sometimes it sounds as if Barthelme's characters are really Ellis's rich brats who'd somehow aged thirty years overnight and taken a huge financial hit during the recession. It can be a little painful to hear Barthelme's middle-aged cast sounding like disaffected young adults, prattling on about TV shows and Ipods and boredom as they too often do in "Waveland." But the despair underneath sounds real enough; that comes through loud and clear.
The end of "Waveland," which refreshingly comes on without a whole lot of pointless padding and dawdling and dancing-in-place as you'll find in most novels today, seems a bit of a non-sequitur. As if Barthelme were determined to heed the advice of someone who said, "Come on Fred, how about giving us a peep of hope this time, some sort of flicker before the abyss at the end of the tunnel?" And so he does to mixed success, I think, about half of it ringing true, the other half not so much.
If you wait a while and get this book used, or even when it comes out in what will still be an overpriced paperback, I think you'd be better served. This here is nothing you need right away, but you might like to get around to it eventually for it's message of quiet stoicism in the face of the disaster areas we make of our lives.