In the first sentence of what turns into an uncommonly poignant and funny book, Nathaniel Barber dives headlong into a familiar topic: the interview for the job your don't want. We've all been there, sitting across from our future boss, being talked out of a position we never really wanted anyway. We all come to the same conclusion:
My team would be cordial, for a day or two. But they'd eventually come to believe, as a district implant, I'd stolen their rightful path to middle management.
He passes on the job and gets a new one. Unfortunately for Barber, as he walks to work on his first day, a man in a window somewhere above pisses on him. This, we learn, is just his luck.
What follows are nearly 200 pages of stories about a life so unlucky yet familiar, that will make readers laugh and squirm uncomfortably. As with so much of contemporary American memoir, the attention is on the conflicts of young adulthood and how they affect us: bad decisions, bad teachers, bad jobs. His reflections on his impending divorce as he walks through an empty house are especially moving:
With no furniture, or carpets or pictures on the walls, or the constant mess on the floor, even the light "poc" of an easy footstep rang in whispers from the cold bare rooms and shuttered into woody closets. It was in these mockingly well-lit, caramel hallways and cozy alcoves where our marriage had, at long last, sputtered to a glottal stop.
The provocatively upbeat title for this collection of short stories, Luck Favors the Prepared, had me fooled: his luck must change at some point, right? He can't get divorced, be tricked by his tenant, work crappy hours at crappy jobs, and have his estranged sibling die. At some point, he must be prepared...right?
No such luck, I'm afraid. It really is too bad because throughout the novel, Barber grows on you. Perhaps it is the common timeline (he and I are roughly the same age), but I saw some recognizable memories reflected in the pages. I truly wanted everything to turn out ok for this guy -- a man who seems so like a friend we've all known.
Barber writes with a flair that makes you wonder if he is actually David Sedaris writing under a pen name, pretending to be part of a younger generation just to taunt us. Like most of us, he looks back on his youth with obvious amusement and faint longing. Although he could benefit from more economy of language at times, Barber adeptly mixes unassuming language with a direct tone that leaves readers laughing and crying, often in the same story.
Give this new novelist a shot -- he won't disappoint!
Elizabeth Chabe - The Indent