"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Bad boy novel rings true

The Very Man
By Chris Binchy
Pan MacMillan
361 Pages

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Chris Binchy's sharply written story of a young man on a downward spiral in Dublin on some level has the same appeal as those trash television programs with titles like "America's Most Horrific Power Tool Accidents" and "Grizzly Bear Attacks Caught On Video." You know something bloody and awful is going to happen to someone, but you just can't look away.

In Binchy's perceptive first novel, we see everything through the eyes of Rory, a 30-year-old who has clawed his way up the advertising ladder in New York over the last half-dozen years and has now returned to his native Dublin to attend his mother's funeral. Reacquainting himself with friends and family underscores the emptiness of his New York life, and he decides to stay.

The flash New York job has left him with the money for a fancy apartment in the city's Temple Bar neighborhood and the credentials to land a good job in his field at the height of the Celtic Tiger economic boom. His new girlfriend moves in with him a few months later and it looks like Rory has the world by the tail.

But looks can be deceiving. Rory's center cannot hold and things fall apart. Rory can't seem to decide if he loves or hates Dublin for not being like New York. Sure the pace is slower, the people more genuine and the city has become more modern, but after working in Manhattan, the Dublin advertising scene seems like the bush leagues to him and the restaurants and clubs are painfully out of style. Alternately cocky and insecure, Rory leads himself astray through an inability to be satisfied with his life. He drinks too much, lies too much, starts to cheat on his girlfriend and deceive his boss. It bring to mind the scene in every cheesy, gory slasher movie where one of the minor characters hears a noise and tells his friends to wait while goes to investigate.

The reader watches while Rory loads the gun, cocks it, aims it at his foot, pulls the trigger and then blames everyone around him for the results. We want to tell Rory to get out of the way of the train of consequences that is rushing down the track of his selfish irresponsibility. His lack of empathy, his self-centeredness and his utter inability to take responsibility for his actions should make Rory an unsympathetic character, but aside from wanting to give him swift kick, ultimately we feel sorry him as he loses his job, his girlfriend, his apartment, and finally his dignity.

Binchy has been likened by more than one critic to Nick Hornby, but a more apt comparison might be Tony Parsons. Like Parsons' Man and Boy, and its sequel Man and Wife, The Very Man has the confessional, moralistic ring of a cautionary tale. This mini-genre seems to be intended to warn men that it's time to grow up and learn to appreciate what you have, and that living out your fantasy of picking up that hot young thing in the bar will only screw up your life and turn your happy home into a smoking crater.

Though the ending seems a bit abrupt, The Very Man is a promising piece of writing from a new author with a flair for realistic dialogue and a clear, flowing style.

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