Nick Antosca wrote his first novel while a Yale undergrad, but you don’t have to take my word for it: in the present tense, without stopping to put quotation marks around the fragmentary dialogue, authorial stand-in Jon Danfield narrates his junior year in New Haven. Danfield is sick as the action begins, and the literally feverish tone courses through accounts of a collegiate existential no-man’s-land fraught with the romantic-destructive intensifiers of stale beer, crusty coke straws, and chain-smoked butts; rough sex (emotional damage shorthand); and a heat wave so sweltering that forest fires threaten to engulf his parents’ suburban street. You Can’t Go Home Again, indeed.
Except he does, accompanying a fallen-idol classmate to investigate the torture chamber unearthed in the basement of the latter’s high school football coach. A useful comparison here is that definitive work about a college kid discovering the wormy heart of his apple pie hometown, Blue Velvet. But while David Lynch was a true connoisseur of corn, Danfield’s past is a vague, chlorine-scented memory until it catches fire and becomes the staging ground for Antosca’s violent, hallucinatory imagery. But “23-year-old publishes vivid, unbalanced first novel” isn’t news any more unwelcome than it is surprising, is it?