42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Loser, 24 May 2004
Barcelona is worlds away from New York City. Right? You wouldn't expect someone from Spain to know much about the club scene, drag queens, or frustrated artists of the East Village, would you? When would I have ever found myself a magnet for freaks while the girl I've spent my every aching second pining for only thought of me as 'friendship' material?
Have you wallowed in unrequited love? Have you ever gone to dance clubs? Have you ever squirmed violently in the orgiastic throng of a concert audience, adding your own pressure to the mass at the stage like so many sperm beating against an egg? The pulse throbbing in you still as you left the building, vibrating you like a bell?
Okay, so maybe not all of this is universal. Suffice it to say, Richard Perez's The Loser's Club rang familiar for me. Even though I've never been to the Village (or New York City). Even though that stage of life ended for me by age 22, and Perez's protagonist, Martin Sierra, is in his latter twenties.
Martin is an Export Assistant at Japan World Transport. He hates it, of course, and spends most of his time on the phone or on the photocopier, checking for messages on his personal ad or copying poetry for submission to whichever journal will reject him next. I hope I'm not the only one who's been there-a collection of cold form letters from publishers your only greeting after each day at a meaningless job.
The fascination for the personals keeps Martin going day to day. What better way to people-watch than to actually set up a meeting with the watchee? Martin's obsession certainly has a hollowness to it. But it's more than idle curiosity. Once upon a time he fell in love with someone he met through the personals. Nikki. And now? They're best friends. The word is a curse. Perhaps Martin is continually trying to reenact their first meeting. As if getting it right somehow would break the spell and free him and Nikki to move beyond friendship. As for the idea that Martin is searching for his possibly abusive, definitely mysterious missing mother, I don't buy it. Were that the case he'd never have developed more feeling for Nikki than he does for any of the others.
These others form quite a menagerie. In the novel two figure prominently. Lola is an art student who lives with her mother and paints absurdly violent images. Amaris has a son and believes in vampires. Martin starts seeing both, and things are progressing in each case, through no urgency of his own. But however insignificantly mundane Martin's life may seem, with its pointless daily carousel of work, alcohol, arranged meetings and clubs, it can still come crashing down. When it does, he finds that the only thing left is something he hadn't even started with.
This is actually a formulaic romance. In fact, the climax and resolution are a little too much, the dream triggering them a deus ex machina.
Yet the book surprises with some excellent writing. There's no question Perez can tap into the era he's portraying. And the dialogue is natural, entirely credible. Dance clubs, including mosh pits, are very well described. And moments like Martin's searching for a parking spot, asking women sitting in their cars if they're leaving and invariably being told no, are exquisite.
The frustrated artist aspect of Martin's personality is underdeveloped. When the mountain of rejection letters is introduced, the description is prosaic-a lost opportunity for Kafkaesque indulgence. But I love the discussion of journals requiring SASEs, the humiliation of providing the vehicle for your own rejection. And I suppose this aspect of Martin's character is little more important than his parking woes, or his inability to skip stones on a pond, or the fact that a club lacks his preferred draft. The point of each is to reflect on his love life.
Martin himself is far from the typical romantic lead. He's too much the good-for-nothing-but-the-appreciation-of-irony post-Gen-Xer. I suspect most readers will either find him unendurably dull or succumb to a nostalgic sympathy. But one thing I find remarkable about him is the fact that, like any genuine person, he's not entirely at ease in his context. Perez doesn't portray him as too streetwise, nor too na´ve. Instead, Martin has an open mind. He doesn't surprise easily. At the same time, there are drugs he's never heard of, he doesn't know what a 'swatch' is, Amaris's sexual confessions shock him, and despite his sophistication his enjoyment of silly sci-fi movies is not purely ironic. The girls themselves are interesting characters, but hardly dynamic. Lola and Amaris are props, really, and Nikki seldom more real than the Grail. Of course, that's as it should be. That's the point: she isn't tangible. She's a dream. And isn't everyone entitled to have a dream or two when they're young?
What I like most about The Loser's Club is the lack of pretension. To me this novel comes off as entirely unassuming. This isn't an overly fraught narrative like academia would relish. Neither does it strain too hard to excite the interest of mainstream young adults. Its perspective (from Martin) is straightforward. Simple and observant, as a disinterested good-for-nothing-but-unremarkable-introspective-poetry guy should be. I found myself enjoying this story despite its weaknesses. Despite the fact that it's not 'important' and that it recreates an era that isn't yet old enough to be cool again. Why? Because at one point I would have identified closely with Martin (except for the weird mother stuff, thank heavens). If the same might be true for you, I'd recommend the book.