Pity Potter Mays. He has a summer to find a career, move out of his parents’ sprawling house in St. Louis and figure out if his girlfriend still loves him — or if she’s boffing the bisexual woman with whom she’s traveling through Europe. After failing tests in basic math and alphabetization at a temp agency, he discovers that his degree from an unnamed but impressive university only qualifies him to deliver bottled water. Conveniently, his best friend is a life coach but, unfortunately for Potter, said friend charges full price for all consultations. On top of it all, a mysterious nocturnal rattling in the attic has lately been keeping him awake.
Kyle Beachy pities his protagonist, whose slide from ennui into depression is chronicled with an earnestness that even irony can’t mask. Characters develop “sitcom crushes,” where the object of the crush functions as a distraction meant to bide time until one’s soulmate appears. They refer to marijuana as “Relaxation” and cocaine as “Talkative.” On his delivery route, Potter befriends a young boy and develops his own spontaneous and illegal Big Brother program, consisting of conversation and occasional games of catch. And a serious knack for figurative language keeps the writing rolling: a candle smells like “pears burning inside a tire,” someone drinks “like a sink drain,” car horns sound like “geese on quaaludes.”
Beneath the slangy banter, Potter’s mind begins to slip. He holds conversations with his dead brother and dry-humps his 16-year-old SAT protégé (consensually, but still). Almost at bottom, he describes what he’s learned using the language of baseball: “I had to go down the slide... Had to minimize the stroke. I had to calm the bat head while waiting.” It’s hard to take the metaphor seriously. By setting the novel in the summer before 9/11, Beachy conveniently implies that Potter, like everyone else, will grow up due to the social and political circumstances over the horizon. Potter won’t have to see a shrink about the ghost, nor will he get arrested for inappropriate relations with minors. Yet the novel’s Labor Day ending feels lazy: rather than showing us growth or consequences, Beachy enshrines an earlier time, when problems such as Potter’s seemed truly big-league