I first heard about the James Hynes novel Next in one of Ron Charles’s tweets. He was raving about the book but was asking how to review its powerful climax without giving anything away. Indeed, much like The Usual Suspects, the essential payoff of its formalist approach comes from entering as an innocent. The less you know, the better.
Next devastated me as few recent novels have precisely because the last third was so different from the beginning. I agree with the cavalcade of praise around it, but I’m hard-pressed to tell friends why they should read it. Just trust me.
Trust is an interesting word here, for a few reasons. First, this was the first book I’ve sought out based on a tweet. This wasn’t just any tweet: Ron Charles reviews for the Washington Post, and I’ve seen hundreds of his updates before. I have at least a decent sense that if he likes something, it’s worth checking out. I should admit that I didn’t even follow through to his full review. (Sorry!)
Secondly, the novel is constructed to demand a bit of the reader’s trust. It begins innocuously, and keeps it up. You’re not sure why this is a novel at all, surely it could have been edited down to a short story. Only upon completion does Hynes’ slow burn make sense. He’s lulling us into a certain calm, one particular way of thinking. Critics have name-checked Joyce, but I think Mrs. Dalloway is closer: the beautifully, subtly rendered quotidian. (Ulysses is too self-aggrandizing.) I kept thinking: if this were a debut, would the agent or editor have read through to the brilliant ending?
No matter. Hynes has found a new way to shine a light of literature on our communal experience, written in a perfect American 2010 vernacular.
Thirdly: trust me. It’s very good. Please go pick it up, read it, and let me know what you think. This is one you’ll be glad to have in hardcover.
(Though it is a Little, Brown book. Please buy The Ask as well and make FSG happy.)