Melville House Publishing ($14.95)
by Morgan Myers
Zachary German’s Eat When You Feel Sad is a novel about a tone—specifically, a tone of total disaffection, of absolute disinterest, maintained through a rigorous objectivity of language that allows not even the flourish of a compound sentence. Nearly any example would be representative:
Robert takes a shower. Robert dries himself. He puts on underwear. He puts on jeans. He puts on a t-shirt. He takes off the t-shirt. He puts the t-shirt back on. He puts on socks and shoes. He looks at himself in the mirror. He looks at his laptop computer. He looks at his cat. Robert walks out of his apartment. He walks down stairs. He walks out of his building. Robert rides his bike.
It would be easy to identify this relentless monotone as the attitude of the book’s protagonist, an aimless twenty-something described by himself as “vain and judgmental” and by another character as “full of bullshit.” That would be partly right, certainly, but it would also underestimate how much the narration levels the small, ordinary, but very real intensity of Robert’s inner life. Robert longs for love and breaks people’s hearts; he makes friends and loses them; he gets drunk, stays in, and goes to work; he feels lonely and bored and desperate and contented. In other words, he has the same emotions and experiences as most of his readers, even if the exact ratio may heavily reflect his millennial-bohemian lifestyle. Meanwhile, the narration treats all of this with a uniform neutrality, as likely to gloss over an act of lovemaking between two sentences or to erase a whole year in a single clause as it is to dilate on the process of doing laundry with Zen-like attention.
If the non-voice that dominates the novel is not Robert’s, though, what is it? It might be the perspective to which Robert aspires, a Buddhist equanimity that would mean an escape from the round of vague desires that frustrates him, and into the simple awareness that seems to provide his most satisfied moments. Or it might mirror the cruel-seeming indifference of a universe without intrinsic meaning, in which one event is as random as another, regardless of how significant it may feel to us. Or is it the voice of Zachary German, the author as coldly rational observer split off from his autobiographical protagonist as suffering self?
It seems to be all of this and more, and is thus a subtly but intensely emotional thing, the object of both desire and repulsion, source of both comfort and abjection. Eat When You Feel Sad is finally, then, a love story about a style—a sort of “boy meets tone,” in which (as in any love story) author, reader, and protagonist are united in their shared fascination with an object that draws and eludes them, that defines and neglects them, that embraces and despises and ignores them all at once.
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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2010 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2010