My review of Dustin Long’s Bad Teeth ran today in the Boston Globe.
Long’s second novel falls squarely into postmodern novel territory, with a distinct Crying of Lot 49 vibe. It’s not nearly as detailed or deep as Pynchon, but what is? Bad Teeth looks to emulate the style, but doesn’t overreach, and the result is a really fun, wide-ranging story whose ultimate point is how pointless everything seems nowadays.
What I liked most about the book was how Long depicted the relationship his cast of millennial characters have with social media. They blog, they tweet, and they use Facebook, and they do so in a way that’s completely unobtrusive and germane to their lifestyle. I feel like references to youth culture often seem shoehorned into narratives, or are shown in an odd light, as if the writer doesn’t really have any first-hand experience with it. Like they are writing about young people based on how they’re portrayed in David Brooks columns. Long, however, seems to get it, and it’s really refreshing to read a story that feels like it’s set in the world as I know it.
One thing of note: about halfway through the book, it’s revealed that the narrative we’re reading isn’t being told from a third-person omniscient perspective. Instead, it’s being told by one of the characters within it. So the main character’s name, Judas, is thrown into a different light when you discover that the narrator is someone who was betrayed by the main character.
I’m not a huge fan of these metafictional touches. Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow uses the exact same device (as does Roth’s American Pastoral, where the details of Swede Levov’s tragic life are entirely the creation of Nathan Zuckerman’s imagination). And I’m left wondering, does this approach add anything to these stories? In Roth’s case, maybe, but I think you could probably remove the unreliable narrators from all three books and just let the stories stand on their own with no ill effect. They might even be stronger for it.