Party Like It's 2009: Life And Friendship In The Great Recession
In Choire Sicha's Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City, a voice from our future looks back at events taking place in a "massive" East Coast metropolis, its citizens perpetually gripped with "a quiet panic" while living in a gritty landscape of iron and excess. Throw in a mysterious virus, a rich, blind governor, a sketchy mayor campaigning for a third term, and this novel gets even more curious.
Guiding us through this is John, a young man so poor he can't even afford socks or regular haircuts. His days are spent working in a dreary office, making less money now that he has a "real" job than he did freelancing. Sicha spins a compelling allegory of New York City and its residents. Here's a tangled fable of greed, consumption and isolation in a place where characters grapple with profound feelings of isolation despite too many friends, too many romantic flings, and too many choices.
John spends his nights partying with his tightknit group. There's the sensible Chad, a tutor to the children of the city's wealthy; and Chad's boyfriend, Diego, who he met on a dating website aptly called DList; the likable Kevin and his "incredibly symmetrical face," with whom John sometimes has sex; and the beautiful Tyler Flowers, whose skin is "so pale that you [can] see into his head a little."
As the novel progresses, the city sinks deeper and deeper into a recession, the shadowy virus gradually claims more victims, our imperious mayor spends more money on a re-election campaign based on fear and intimidation, and John and his friends find themselves increasingly lost in a labyrinth of smoky bars, hook-up sites, and sex clubs.
But even as they glibly rant about cigarettes and social media, wealth and power, Sicha portrays this group of gay men not as vapid and shallow products of their time, but as compelling, keen and intensely complex individuals yearning to be heard and remembered in the face of so much annihilation. In the relentless bombardment of text messages and non sequiturs, one-night stands, and obsessions about money and jeans, we encounter incisive musings on love and worth at a time when it seemed as though the entire world would unravel.
Choire Sicha's writing charms and delights, but beneath the biting wit and cynicism, I found a book that dares to explore the darker underbelly of human avarice and capital, a book that's equal parts blindingly terrifying and smartly humorous, and one of the most clever reads I've encountered in a long time. This novel forces us to consider the cyclical nature of profits and losses, forces us to remember that friends and fads come and go, and that some things survive while others die off.
For it's only when we closely examine our own very recent history that we can better learn to understand, and embrace, the very possible future we'll inevitably inherit.
Alex Espinoza is the author of Still Water Saints and The Five Acts of Diego Leon.