Sunday, March 3, 2013

Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace

Jason Priestley is feeling kind of pathetic.  He's living over a video game shop, next to that place that everyone thought was a brothel but wasn't.  In between writing snarky reviews for the free paper they hand out on the train in London, he keeps busy watching his ex's dream life unfold via Facebook while he...eats soup.  By all accounts, Jason is trapped in a horrible rut, waiting for his real life to start while he drinks bizarre Polish alcoholic beverages with his best friend and roommate Dev, who keeps his customer-free retro video game business afloat with the profits from his father's Brick Lane restaurants. 

Things are going along more or less miserably when Jason has a run-in with a girl, because there's always a girl.  He helps her get into a taxicab with an inordinate amount of stuff, and is left with the memory of her smile, the lingering sense that he should have asked her out for a drink, and one disposable camera.  When Dev convinces Jason that they have to develop the photos, Jason's suddenly hurtling down a rabbit hole toward laughable lunacy and self-discovery as he sets out to find the girl in the pictures and the hope she left behind. 

I didn't like Charlotte Street as much as I'd hoped.  I was hoping for a laugh-out-loud funny, twisted love story.  What I got was the tale of an irritatingly immature guy who through a series of mostly unrelated events matures to the point of being tolerable but not for any reason that is readily apparent.  While bumbling one's way to self-actualization might be the way it happens, I didn't find that it made for an especially compelling story. 

While Charlotte Street was amusing, I didn't find myself laughing so much as being almost squirmingly uncomfortable with all the awkward scrapes Jason stumbles into.  I struggle with the kind of humor that relies on your relating to a character having crushingly embarrassing, shamefully awkward moments.  Even on TV, when other people are laughing, I find myself inwardly cringing.  This books is full to the brim with those sorts of sitcom scenarios that I find uncomfortable rather than hilarious, which is, I'm sure, more a problem with this reader than with the book itself.  Humor is one of those things that is so subjective that it's hard to please everyone, and I'm sure the humor found in Charlotte Street has the potential to appeal to a large audience, that, uh, maybe doesn't so much include me.

I loved the premise.  I loved the beginning of the story where he has the hope of meeting the girl.  I even continued chuckling at some of the humor devices Wallace kept falling back on throughout the length of the book, like how Jason is not that Jason Priestley, and the apartment being next to the not-brothel. I even liked the ending and how it seemed oddly more feasible than much of the meat of the book.  Unfortunately, the middle meandered for so long that the story bogged itself down and left me longing to turn the last page for all the wrong reasons.

(Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.)

1 comment:

  1. I think we have similar senses of humor. I find sitcom and movie awkward embarrassing moment humor cringe worthy also. I hate those moments and would rather look away than watch them.

    Great Review