Reviewers sometimes read novels featuring young characters like they aren’t books but bones cast by a soothsayer. What does it say about our society that someone who was in elementary school during the O.J. Simpson trial behaves in a certain way? And was it an aesthetic choice to have him send an email, just then?
You really can’t do this silly thing to the characters in Ben Dolnick’s new novel, At the Bottom of Everything, in which Adam (the narrator, who compares himself to Nick Carraway early on) and the eerily brilliant Thomas fall out of their hometown best-friendship post-college. They have a trauma in their shared past—not that friendships need a reason to disintegrate—but that’s almost besides the point. The best parts of this novel involve watching the effect of this distance on its two eccentric and well-drawn characters.
They’re a bit reminiscent of Martin Amis types in that they are both intelligent and flawed—the sort of combination that makes you want to hop on their backs and see where the story takes them. There’s a healing trip to India that somehow isn’t cheesy. Impressively, none of it is—not the secret, coded language Adam and Thomas speak with each other as children, not the book’s final emails, which are all from Adam to Thomas except the very last one. In the deft handling of its inherent melodrama, I was also reminded of another young novelist, Benjamin Lytal, whose Map of Tulsa touched on similar themes. Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can! Sometimes you’re even forced to.
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