Analysis, Reading

Book Review: Last Time Around

This novel captures that peculiar post-college time period when one becomes more deeply acquainted with regret. The entire book takes place over the course of one evening. A handful of New York office workers are kibitzing about work, careers, sex, love, housing, and family over beers. It’s experimental, but beautiful and affecting… just watch out for the footnotes.

That was the first night we kissed, that very same night, after eating a mysterious concoction of floating seafood and tender vegetables in a mild noodley broth and walking home through Little Italy, shaking our heads at the maitre d’s with their menus offering half-price wine bottles and a romantic atmosphere, past the karaoke place on Mulberry which I didn’t even know existed yet, past Kenmare or Delancey or whatever. and on to Spring again, stopping, heart-pounding, with that now-or-never-feeling of tight squirmy anxiety that comes right before you attempts to kiss someone you aren’t sure will kiss you back, leaning forward, Olivia not resisting, and finally putting my lips to hers right outside the stairs leading down to the 6 Train on Spring Street in that kind of covert train entrance tucked between commercial buildings, under a neon glaze of shop lights and street lamps and the brackish air, us both on our raincoats on account of the spotty weather, hoods down, Olivia’s neck sleek and shimmering against the raincoat’s hood, without a thought about anybody else.

Last Time Around by Will Clattenberg

Who’s gonna love this book?

If you would like a modern, realistic, slice-of-life fiction, and you’re intrigued by the idea of an experimental writing style, then you’re gonna love this book.

This novel captures that peculiar time of life right after college when one becomes more deeply acquainted with regret.The entire book takes place over the course of one evening with a group of office worker friends kibitzing over beers about work, careers, sex, love, housing, and family. It’s experimental and a little weird and it’s beautifully written.

Who’s not going to like it?

Well if the phrase “massive number of footnotes” leaves you wanting to run for the hills, then you might just go ahead and do that, but I would encourage you to stick around and hear my thoughts.

What did I think of Last Time Around by Will Clattenburg?

I’m going to go out on a limb and call this a coming-of-age story. I think that such a story can take place over a single beer soaked evening.

It’s that post-college coming of age, that rough period of time, at least for me, when your friend group is decimated by college ending. It’s decimated down to whoever you meet in whatever place you end up, and hopefully, maybe, some co-workers that you can connect with. It’s an awkward time when you’re figuring out roommates and money and career and the pressure of all those things.

Work sucks. You miss homework, because at least that was straightforward, certainly more straightforward than paying taxes, or choosing car insurance. It’s that time in life, especially right at the tail end of college, when you’re looking back at your 18 year old self and thinking, “Wow, that guy didn’t know jack shit, but I’ve got it figured out.”

Only to realize you don’t have anything figured out.

And the book works. I was drawn in. But let’s address the elephant in the room: footnotes.

This book is packed with footnotes and I’ll be damned but I think they actually enhance the story. I can’t even believe I’m saying that. The humble footnote is doing work here.

Memory, thought, anticipation. Our minds jump between past present and future, and thoughts riff on themselves. Digressions sometimes lead to further digressions. Footnotes are actually a great tool to capture these sorts of things and present the reality of what it’s like to live in a human brain.

The footnotes in this book serve as the protagonist’s subconscious, offering up tidbits of information, addendums, associations, like a dog fetching items from around the house in a desperate attempt to please its master. The dog is not always grabbing the thing that you want. The footnotes do interrupt the story sometimes in just the same way that intrusive thoughts interrupt. Other times the footnotes simply tag a bit of dialogue with an association, the way your brain might remind you of some funny thing you saw on the internet that has no bearing on the conversation, and you should keep to yourself, and the character does, but it’s in the footnotes to show how his mind works.

I got a strong impression of what it was like to live inside this character’s head with the contexts and the asides that drifted alongside the external events as a weird parallel track. And I gotta also say that whoever did formatting on this book deserves at least a pat on the back if not a raise, because one real danger with the footnotes is that they don’t line up in parallel with where you’re supposed to read them, but these did for probably 95 percent of them. There were only a few where I had to turn a page and then turn back. It didn’t bother me as nearly as much as I expected it to and I did enjoy this book, as hopefully you are seeing.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been more fully one with a character than I was in this book and that’s kind of amazing.

Do I want to read this sort of book all the time? Hell No. This was experimental. I think it was a successful experiment, but not the sort of experiment that one should replicate.

If you are a writer and you’re like “Oh yeah! yeah I use tons of footnotes too.” That doesn’t excite me to read your book.

In conclusion, a really cool experience. It’s short. It’s recommended. If you do want to read it I do recommend getting a physical copy because of the footnotes. I couldn’t figure out how to access the footnotes on a Kindle, not even remotely. So maybe that’s just me, but the physical copy worked great.

Last Time Around by Will Clattenberg. Check it out. It was fun


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