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What's Important Is Feeling
Adam Wilson, author of Flatscreen and 2012 winner of the Terry Southern Prize.
A series of shorts—mostly involving young Jewish men living on the east coast who do drugs, pine over women, and experience failure in both life and love.
Failings on the East Coast
An assortment of young Jewish men that are romantically deficient and/or casual drug users.
In a shitty hot apartment...no thanks.
When I was stoned I was still horny, I just didn't feel so angry about it.
What's Important Is Feeling falls into the same trap that many collections do, in that it's too consistent in regards to its theme, its characters, its setting. Many of the leads are young Jewish men struggling with love, relationships, and their transition to adulthood. They do drugs. They live on the east coast for the most part. What this amounts to is a collection in which each story is an echo of the previous one. They aren't carbon copies, but they aren't wholly different either. Some people prefer this type of cohesiveness; I don't happen to be one of them. And I can't ignore the fact that Adam Wilson just so happens to be a young Jewish male living on the east coast, which only further adds to the "is this story about you" topic that readers so often pose to authors.
Don't get me wrong, Adam Wilson can write...and he does so with a certain authenticity and humor that I rarely see. The credentials are there, having been published in The Paris Review, VICE, and Tin House, but I suspect these stories worked better in the context of a literary magazine than a collection. Once combined, they lose all contrast and assume a sort of generic quality. I never found myself hating or loving any of them, but feeling lukewarm about something can be just as dangerous as loathing. Wilson's prose is solid, he definitely knows how to capture the character of a young twenty-something, but I wanted a little more variety out of him. "The Long In-Between", for example, is different in that it's more female-centric, but even then we're still presented the same unlucky-in-life-and-love-on-the-east-coast story that gets dished up for the majority of the collection.
The clear stand-out for me was the title story, "What's Important Is Feeling", a piece that actually takes place on the west coast. It reminded me of an article that was written about The Canyons some time ago, which mostly documented how everything about that movie was going to shit. I quite enjoyed it. But this reprieve in Wilson's book is singular, the one hit among the many stories in which characters and settings are too close, too familiar to differentiate, and therefore, lost in the shuffle. Wilson's stories can work on their own, and they can work in the context of a literary magazine, but back-to-back-to-back is something I had a hard time with. If you enjoy the cohesive element in collections, then I can't recommend this book enough. I tend to lean towards diversity in collections. In the end, I'd much rather love/hate a few stories as opposed to feeling the same about all of them.
Bookshots review written for LitReactor.com by Brandon Teitz