Next: A Novel Paperback – 9 Mar 2011
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PRAISE FOR KINGS OF INFINITE SPACE:
"Very few novels can manage to be both hilarious and creepy, but this one does. Fewer still can show off their smarts without slowing down the plot, but this one does that, too."
-- Salon "Laura Miller"
"Immensely witty.... A fast, funny ride through pretty peculiar territory."
-- Washington Post Book World "Jonathan Yardley"
"This macabre, funny, and very twisted satire of office life displays James Hynes as a wonderfully eccentric and entirely original writer."
-- Esquire "Adrienne Miller"
"Hynes writes like Joyce on Quaaludes, in spiky, gorgeous language, with an eye for detail that is occasionally shocking in its apt particularity... Next occurs on one Bloomsday-like imaginary day and runs backward and forward in time to a heart-stopping finale that is one of the best endings of any novel I have ever read." Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man"
"I already knew that James Hynes was the master of satirical, high-octane fiction but I did not expect him to be the genius of detail, too. Or to be so tender. NEXT - in which Kevin goes to Texas for a job interview and gets sidetracked by his lifelong quest for love - is that rarity, a lapidary novel of small compass and brief time frame which delivers a punch of global relevance. It is touching, shocking, intelligent, and - at least where matters of the heart are concerned - profoundly and subversively candid." Jim Crace, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of BEING DEAD"
"I'm a longtime James Hynes fan, but NEXT is one of the most surprising, delightful, compulsively readably and ultimately profound novels I've read in some time. I didn't know whether to cry or laugh or cheer when I finished it, so I just went ahead and did all three, then started over at the beginning."
Laura Lippman, author of Life Sentences"
"Funny, surprising, and sobering . . . The final 50 pages are unlike anything in the recent literature of our response to terrorism-a tour de force of people ennobled in the face of random horror." Publishers Weekly, starred review"
"As Kevin frets his way through the single day on which NEXT takes place, he envisions many different threats. But the true stealth attack in NEXT is the one launched at the reader by Mr. Hynes. This is a book that begins innocently and is careful not to tip its hand, even though there's something very unusual at work." Regarding Kevin, Maslin asks, "Will he have the temerity to change his life forever? Talk about temerity: Mr. Hynes yanks the rug out from under Kevin so drastically that his own temerity will not soon be forgotten....Finally this book arrives at a resolution that makes breathtakingly perfect sense." Janet Maslin, The New York Times"
"NEXT is more than a cultural travelogue. It's a dervish of a tale that whips personal and social anxieties into an unforeseen, but perhaps inevitable, climax." Mike Shea, Texas Monthly"
"Hynes is a rare writer. He is brilliant and humane, and he's created a novel that's as involving as it is dark, as compassionate as it is sad. It's a shocking, original masterpiece, and it is deeply, painfully American, in every sense of the word -- whatever that word has come to mean. NEXT is the kind of novel that leaves you reeling, almost speechless, frightened, scared to consider what it all means." Michael Schaub, Bookslut"
"The last expert trick in this novel is that, despite playing with a certain medieval grimness, the book ends on an absurdly and rather lovely hopeful note. "Next" - that fatal word for the age-obsessed who fear the effect of time on their biology - has another face: There is a real future and a real way to be adult." Roger Gathman, Austin-American Statesman"
"Hynes, a gifted comic novelist, is after something very serious here; he adopts a near-stream-of-consciousness narrative to tease at it, with Quinn more Dalloway than Bloom as he makes his way across the unfamiliar overheated Texas capital." Justin Bauer, Philadelphia City Paper"
"Hynes's novel contains many memorable passages and comic riffs; and his decision to shape the book around its high-stakes ending (50 pages of riveting, vivid, and unstoppable reading) does, ultimately justify and define the whole." Claire Messud, The New York Times"
"At first NEXT seems to be just an exceptionally well-written comic novel about middle age. But with great subtlety and nuance, Hynes begins to move the narrative into deeper, more compelling territory.... NEXT is sui generis-an essential piece of American literature that is both of its time and ultimately without present compare; a novel that is about us, all of us, living our lives in the mayhem of our own particular drama, inevitably blind to the surrounding mayhem until it is much too late." Tod Goldberg, The Los Angeles Times"
"Like Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" and Ian McEwan's "Saturday," NEXT follows the events of a single day and relies on a subtle interplay of memory, trauma and thought. . . . The reader hangs on breathlessly as Kevin's thoughts swerve from past to present and beyond, reconciling what came before with whatever is to come in a seamless flow. NEXT may be Hynes' best book-and one that reveals his gifts as a serious novelist." Laura Bufferd, BookPage"
About the Author
James Hynes is the author of the novels "The Lecturer's Tale," "Wild Colonial Boy," the stories "Publish & Perish" (all New York Times Notable Books of the Year), and the novel Kings of Infinite Space. He lives in Austin, Texas.
Top customer reviews
Came across this as a recommendation on George Pelecanos' best of 2010 list & it lived up to the expectations set there. Brilliant
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I'm not going to summarize the plot, because a number of other reviewers have already done that well. The end, after a brilliant buildup, is one that you never saw coming until you think back and realize that it was always coming, in a thousand of Kevin's half-thoughts and sweaty semi-phobias and all-too-human fears and prejudices.
After I finished the book, I looked up the reviews in the NYT. Janet Maslin raved about it, but Claire Messud was critical. Ironically, the last review I wrote was about Messud's latest book, which was amateurish and dreadful. I thought, "No wonder you write so badly--you can't read."
Some reviews have criticized Kevin's arrested development, arguing that there is nothing redeeming about him, but every moment in Kevin's day is about a redemption toward which he drags himself reluctantly but nostalgically, through heat and light which rise off of the page. There were moments when I wanted to take this slightly vain, slightly immature, slightly selfish man by the hand and say, "Let's just sit down for a second, over there, IN THE SHADE." I can't remember the last time that I knew exactly and so clearly how a character felt at every moment, and felt it with him.
A great book.
The flight and subsequent time spent in Austin give Kevin plenty of time to think about the failures of his previous relationships. It's almost as if James Joyce developed a southern twang and set about to chronicle the post-9/11 world as Kevin wanders aimlessly around Austin (rather than Dublin). The tale takes on a creepy, Nabokov feel when he sees the young Asian woman he sat next to on his flight from Michigan and begins to follow her around. It's as if Humbert Humbert turned stalker.
Kevin is not exactly a character to be admired, but he is one that I not only could identify with but felt like I was seeing the world through his eyes. He's the kind of person we pass every day on the streets or see in coffee shops. He's neither charismatic enough to draw our attention not pathetic enough to trigger our pity. In sort, he's the sort of unremarkable person who passes through life mostly unremarked upon ... just like the majority of us.
Kevin Quinn was exactly the sort of person T.S. Eliot had in mind when he wrote these lines in "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock:
I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.
Let's not forget that the same poem also contains the line "Do I dare disturb the Universe?" Kevin, our every-fool, gets to do just that in the last section of the book (which I won't give away here other than pointing out there is plenty of foreshadowing in the book, but even with those hints you'll likely still be taken by surprise).
In short, I'm astonished by this book. Even after a few days to let the novel settle like a heavy feast, I'm still finding new connections and insights in its pages.
Kevin, at 50, is used to attracting younger women, and having imagined sexual encounters, but he knows his number is up soon. His enlarged prostate and whisker-sprouting ears are a sign of the vicissitudes of middle-age. But he continues to pamper his inner adolescent, and ill-advisedly follows a comely twenty-year-old woman from the plane and attempts to keep her at close range. Perspiration accumulates on his brow and under his arms, and he makes a pretty ragged mess of his suit as he proceeds to have some risible misadventures over at the hike-and-bike trail.
As an Austin resident, I was thrilled to read such adroit descriptions of local landmarks. I don't think I can ever look at the wide bleached sky or view the Austin skylight the same ever again. Hynes' descriptions venture into the hyperreal, and he refers to the "Longhorn Tower" where he has his interview as Barad-dur, right out of the Tolkien universe. Austin occasionally lifts to fantasy heights in Hynes' literary universe.
Hynes writes with dazzling and savvy prose and has a keen eye for the details of human behavior and countenance. He described a moment dancing with a woman he loved-- "She was always watching you like she was right on the cusp of derision. But in a good way..." Kevin's vulnerability is both hilarious and heartbreaking, and his ability to acknowledge his limitations mitigates the blustery and bloated ego that keeps him at arm's length in relationships.
This darkly comic story of a man's confrontation with his moral ambiguity is biting and marvelously warped, absurd and surreal. The author structured juxtapositions between past and present with a split-second precision that fairly teeters and often had me laughing out loud. One moment he would be with Stella in an Ann Arbor food market, and the next sentence or paragraph, he would be chasing a woman at a same-named market in Austin. His scenes are elaborately detailed with spot-on timing. The results are uncanny and ripe with an ominously comic gusto.
This is an author who knows how to blend highbrow, lowbrow and pop culture to create a frenzied portrait of a desperate and appalling man that you nevertheless root for and empathize with--a lecherous loser who keeps searching, who never gives up, who strives for a tattered integrity. He knows his fatal flaws, his salacious impetuosity, his lack of engagement with the future. In a particularly revealing scene in a Mexican restaurant, he shares some pivotal moments of his past with a beautiful woman who is compelled to first share a secret of her own. If you are not touched by that scene, then this probably isn't a book you will connect with conclusively. Later, there is a mordant scene in a bathroom of a clothing store that is searingly bald and telling.
There is a moral compass here--it is cracked and bent, but Kevin is holding onto it for dear life. The author delivers a magnificent ending, a daring and audacious finale that airlifts every emotion simultaneously. Hynes gives us a complex and ultimately sympathetic character portrayed through a brutal and magnified lens.
Addendum: This author likes Firesign Theater and quoted them in the book, which indubitably delighted me--so way cool. Let's to the Winter Palace!