Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Spring 2003
  

  

 

The Losers’ Club
Richard Perez
Ludlow Press, New York
196 pp. $12.99

  

  
  

 

The biggest problem with Richard Perez’s The Losers’ Club is that its protagonist Martin Sierra is, well, for want of a better word, a loser. This is probably to be expected in a book with such a title, but Martin Sierra is the kind of loser who so thoroughly fails to enliven the novel of which he is the center that one is left with very little impression of the character—certainly no positive impression.

Martin fails with work, women, writing and with life but as readers we’re seldom moved or surprised by any of this. Why? Because this character clearly deserves to fail.

His singles ad in the Village Voice reads:

 

“* CLOSEOUT SALE *

SM, 26, 5’7, anti-hipster, into the Village, writing, the art life—seeks uncommon SF for long exhaustive talks, mutual support, and well....”

 

Fine, right?

Uh, no. So anti-hip he barely exists, Martin Sierra is as bland and unexciting as flour and water—an utterly unleavened protagonist. This is a character even a mother would have problems loving, and though that may be Perez’s point, he has seemingly forgotten the fact that readers need to feel something for a character: sympathy, disgust, anything. Martin provokes no response one way or the other. He speaks in unexpressive monosyllabic sentences, arrives late for work on a consistent basis, writes shallow cliché-ridden poetry; and most pointedly, can’t romance his way out of a rice paper sack to save his sorry breakfast. He is one of the thousands of milquetoast souls you pass every day but fail to note because of their quality of gray unimportance. 

Now, these loser qualities do not in themselves make for an uninteresting fictional character. Schlubs and losers can be fascinating if given the proper treatment (the works of Salinger, Sartre, Kafka and many others are littered with them), but sadly such is not the case in The Losers’ Club. A vacuum of character may be a forgiven when the character is not the hub of the work, but this unfortunately is Martin Sierra’s story and no other. Many of the supporting characters (goths, vampire wannabes, rowdy party boys, pseudo-artists) are portrayed in a more tangible, interesting manner—it’s true—and Perez’s observant travelogue/review of a specific time and place (the ’90s Village) does generate occasional relief from the doldrums, but for the most part, TLC is an excuse to take the toothpick from your teeth and use it to prop your eye open.

Perez’s writing style only exacerbates the problem. This is painfully minimalist work—not bad per se, simply desiccated and straightforward. (Even the poetry, a somewhat atypical device given the overall approach of this novel, is unremarkable in language and form.) Many academicians and publishing professionals have been pushing this kind of stripped-down “bolts and bolts” style for years, and books like this are the inevitable result—and cause for trepidation if not alarm. Upon finishing such dry and desert works, one truly understands what has been lost in the literary culture and, indeed, in the culture at large by this push to an authorial Nowheresville. Perez’s journalistic approach works fine when describing dance clubs and diners, but his command of character is woefully underdeveloped and needs to put on some muscle. And his language could use another forty pounds, easy. This is featherweight writing all the way.

Strangely enough (or perhaps not), the author has a number of heavy-hitters blurbing this book (John Dufresne, Shirley Ann Grau, Henry Flesh, and more), and they use phrases like “wonderful eye for details”, “dead-on descriptions”, “clear-eyed chronicler” and “a sociologist and a historian.” So maybe it’s just me.

Maybe I’m off base here. Or maybe it’s that this book works fine for those who enjoy minimalism or wax nostalgic for the Village of the ’90s. The book is nicely mounted by Ludlow Press and seems to be adequately written and well-edited for the most part.

So that’s that. It’s fine. And of course by fine I mean mediocre. Perhaps we’re asking for too much when we ask contemporary fiction writers to pull us in, to make our heads reel, to immerse us in a globe of their imagining with sublime control of language, character, and plot. I suppose if I were a reviewer trying to find something nice to say about The Losers’ Club, I would use words like “chronicler”, “sociologist” and “historian” and avoid phrases like “incredible fiction writing”, “inventive language use” and “supreme grasp of character.”

What dull considerations, these.       

 

-CAW-

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