Indecision (a novel) by Benjamin Kunkel
This is a very irritating and, for a writer, humbling novel.
It’s narrated by the protagonist — Dwight Bell Wilmerding — an indecisive blank of a person who writes, thinks, and speaks in a very annoying, sissified manner. This goes on, non-bloody-stop, for 241 pages. He’s so non-masculine one of the characters in the novel asks him if he’s “realize[d] your gay.”
Wilmerding, a nothing, works at an equally nothing job: tech support for Pfizer, until he’s fired in exchange for outsourced staff in India. Raised in prosperity, he lacks the wherewithal to see the urgency in any situation and, also being expensively overeducated, he blithely swims in a sea of questions only those who’ve grown up coddled have the luxury of time and peace of mind to even consider. He’s extremely smart but also just so fucking stupid!
I hate him.
Even one of his girlfriends says to him, “You’re living a cliche. It’s not even a fresh cliche.”
One night, a roommate convinces him to try a new drug undergoing a double-blind trial. It’s called Abulinix, to treat what Dwight obviously has: Abulia, an “impairment or even finally the loss of your ability to make decisions.”
Another one of his occupations, such as it is, is to keep track of old classmates and to schedule reunions. One of the emails he recieves for the imminent latest reunion is from someone he was enamored with: a woman named Nastasha, who is now in Quito.
Encouraged by his sister Alice (who is a piece of work herself: at one time allegedly a lesbian; at all times a collectivist!; and, very briefly, her own brother’s psychoanalyst!), Dwight decides to fly down to Quito to see Natasha.
Once there, Natasha beats a hasty retreat, leaving a note behind that insinuates she needs an abortion and must fly to a country where such a thing is legal. This leaves Dwight in the hands of a woman born in Argentina and raised in Belgium: Brigid.
The novel, with sidetrips to flashbacks, proceeds from there. At times, it’s just outright hilarious:
[Alice, as his analyst:] “It’s an overdetermined phenomenon. This is something we’ll discuss. Part of it is that we belong to a social class and a generation where our parents live too long and remain too economically powerful.”
[Dwight:] “Is this going to be Communist therapy?”
How the book ends really shouldn’t be a surprise, but Kunkel’s prose is so damned distracting — in a good way — that the inevitability of the denouement is hidden by the prose equivalent of masterful sleight-of-hand.
And Kunkel is, dammit, a master, which is why, for any writer, this is a very humbling novel. On practically every page there is a new turn of phrase or analogy or metaphor. There’s Kunkel, challenging his fellow writers: “Oh, have you seen this before?” — slap! — “How about this one? — slap! — “Did you ever have the nerve to try this? — slap!slap! It’s exhausting, getting knocked around like that! But also masochistically satisfying to see another writer pull off those things. How the hell did he do it?
I’d very much like to see another novel from Kunkel (how long will that take? — and for that matter, how long did this one take?) — but, dear God!, not with Dwight or a Dwight-like character in it!
[Excerpts Copyright © 2006 Benjamin Kunkel. Excerpts used without explicit permission under the Fair Use provisions of Copyright law. CopyNazis can go fuck themselves.]