If you saw this book in 1997 when it was first published and began appearing in bookstores, especially the likes of Books-a-Million or Barnes or Noble, you might recognize the cover. It was deeply scandalizing and deeply alluring.
In reality the book is not really either, and this ends up being a pretty good book of a kind, with a bad title. The title promises what the book can’t really deliver, and while the book is funny and weird and sad, it’s not so much the story of a fuck up. Not really.
Our narrator is a would-be writer living in the New York in the early to mid 1980s. He’s couch-surfing mostly, he loves arguing about literature and reading, and especially rare books. Not rare books in the way of collecting, but rare books in the way of consuming. You can imagine the type. He’s kind of awful but nearly as awful as he could be, and because he’s not suffering from a gigantic pile of debt or a debilitating addiction (and since this is NYC in the 1980s, he avoids AIDS), so it’s hard to feel like he’s got it that bad, all things considering.
He loses his job in the opening pages of the book because he asks for a raise, being the most senior employee in his crappy job and eventually gets a job in a porno theater and then almost loses it as he’s walking out the door. He finds a couch he’s allowed to sleep on, but get kicked out when his friend’s ex-girlfriend shows up and wants him booted in a kind of powerplay, plus then his friend dies, which is unfortunate.
Maybe it’s the 1980s or 90s of it all, but while the book is solid and smart (and provides a solid reading list), it’s never as debauched or demimonde as it might. Maybe it’s a late-day Hunger by Hamsun, but he’s not all that hungry here.