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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nothing Happening Here

Nothing Happens Until it Happens to You
T.M. Shine
Crown, 2010

After being laid off from a mundane job he held for 18 years, Jeffery Reiner is at first shocked then resigned to living without a paycheck. He’s in no hurry to get back to work, but he knows that in order to make it through these economic times, he has no choice but to throw himself at any opportunities that come his way.

In spite of the recession, in spite of his colleagues being laid off all around him, and in spite of knowing he does a crappy job, Jeffrey is totally surprised when he is told he no longer has a job. He admits to the reader that he was not happy in his career and that he had coasted through most his working life, yet he seems lost and unprepared for the unemployed culture he finds himself in. It is hard to have any sympathy for Jeffrey, who lets most of his life happen to him and around him without having much say in the matter. Yes, it’s hard to feel sympathetic – but not impossible – because to know Jeffrey is to like Jeffrey. He seems to attract nurturers who want to help him get back on his feet: interesting characters like his retired neighbor who completes minor household fix-it jobs for Jeffrey; or his young female neighbor who acts as a mental therapist for Jeffrey; or his daughter who has reversed roles and takes care of him now, even though she thinks his mess is his own fault. (Which is true.)

Nevertheless, Jeffrey is a mixture of opposites: amiable and clueless; suspicious and uncommunicative; hopeful and not ambitious. It’s easy to be annoyed with Jeffrey, who feels and acts like a victim of his own making, powerless to do anything different to change his life or his circumstances. And yet, he persists in being likeable, in spite of himself, which is what makes this clever, witty and character-driven novel work, despite the fact that not much happens in it.


This is the author’s first novel.

Other titles you may enjoy:

This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes (2006)
Richard Novak is a modern-day Everyman, a middle-aged divorced man trading stocks out of his home. He has done such a good job getting his life under control that he needs no one--except his trainer, nutritionist, and housekeeper. He is functionally dead and doesn't even notice until two incidents--an attack of intense pain that lands him in the emergency room, and the discovery of an expanding sinkhole outside his house--conspire to hurl him back into the world.

Diablerie by Walter Mosley (2008)
Enjoying a precarious sober life balancing family duties with his relationship with a patient mistress, Ben finds his years of alcoholism catching up with him when he encounters a woman with knowledge of a significant event from his past that Ben cannot remember.

A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker (2003)
During a month in the life of a forty-five-year-old editor of medical textbooks, Emmett--married with children, a cat, and a duck--ruminates about the meaning of life during his pre-dawn sojourns alone.

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