The Bend of the World
Liveright (W.W. Norton), April 14, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
"A comedy of bad manners, darting wisecracks, deadpan chagrin, and drug-hazed pratfalls" (James Wolcott), The Bend of the World is a madcap coming-of-age novel in which no one quite comes of age and everything you know is not a lie, it's just, well, tangential to the truth.
In the most audacious literary debut to come out of the Steel City since The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, we meet Peter Morrison, twenty-nine and comfortably adrift in a state of not-quite-adulthood, less concerned about the general direction of his life than with his suspicion that all his closest relationships are the products of inertia. He and his girlfriend float along in the same general direction, while his parents are acting funny, though his rich, hypochondriac grandmother is still good for admission to the better parties. He spends his days clocking into Global Solutions (a firm whose purpose remains unnervingly ambiguous) and his weekends listening to the half-imagined rants of his childhood best friend, Johnny. An addict and conspiracy theorist, Johnny believes Pittsburgh is a "nexus of intense magical convergence" and is playing host to a cabal of dubious politicians, evil corporate schemes, ancient occult rites, and otherwise inexplicable phenomena, such as the fact that people really do keep seeing UFOs hovering over the city.
Against this strange background, Peter meets Mark and Helen, a slightly older couple, new to town, whose wealth and glamour never fully conceal the suggestion of something sinister, and with whom he becomes quickly infatuated. Mark is a corporate lawyer in the process of negotiating a buyout of Global Solutions, and initiates Peter into the real, mundane (maybe) conspiracies of corporations and careers, while Helen—a beautiful and once prominent artist—is both the echo and the promise of the sort of woman Peter always imagined, or was always told he ought to find for himself.
As Peter climbs the corporate ladder, Johnny is pulled into the orbit of a mysterious local author, Winston Pringle, whose lunatic book of conspiracies seems to be coming true. As Johnny falls farther down the rabbit hole, the surreal begins to seep into the mundane, and the settled rhythm of Peter's routine is disrupted by a series of close encounters of third, fourth, and fifth kinds. By the time Peter sets out to save his friend from Pringle's evil machinations (and pharmacological interventions), his familiar life threatens to transform into that most terrifying possibility: a surprise.
In The Bend of the World Philip K. Dick meets Michael Chabon, and Jacob Bacharach creates an appropriately hilarious, bizarre, and keenly observed portrait of life on the edge of thirty in the adolescent years of twenty-first-century America.