Friday, January 1, 2010

DEAR MR.UNABOMBER by Ray Cavanaugh (ENC,

This is a solid debut novel from Roctober 80s metal columnist Cavanaugh (Full Disclosure: I neither read the magazine I'm published in nor care about any of my colleagues). Early on the gimmick of the book (the diary-style entries take the form of letters to the incarcerated Ted Kaczynski) seems to be a thin excuse to turn blog-style ruminations about school and relationships and boredom into something that feels more relevant. But as the book unfolds it becomes clear that though he's not about to murder anyone, and more strikingly, despite the fact that he would seem to an outsider to be a perfectly regular dude, with good grades and girlfriends, our protagonist could not be more sympathetic to the Unabomber's antisocialism. In contrast to Kaczynski's career as a Harvard whiz kid and an anti-technology crusader, our hero is a glorified night school slacker and a online addict. But the empty conversations with his dysfunctional mates and the insipid instant message and e-mail chatter he engages in seem to be as functionally maddening as the voices in any serial killer's head. However, their messages are more numbing than motivating, and rather than bomb and scheme, our hero seems pretty content to watch crime shows, surf the net, and thumb through used books that he fantasizes once belonged to his luddite manifesto-crafting hero. Cavanuagh proves himself a pretty good writer, because if this guide to skating through college and these bad date post-mortems aren't 99% autobiographical than he has an excellent ear for the ways of the world, and if they are true tales than he knows how to put life to paper (or pixel, I suppose). On the other hand, I would not have minded a more formal approach to the same material, with a grander, more dramatically functional structure where every passage built towards some future action rather than just cumulatively building up into as a non-manifesto manifesto. That said, there is a fine scene at the conclusion that deftly makes it clear that our man will never let himself snugly fit inside society's box. And on the third hand (if you are a monkey, that would be a foot), there's plenty of awesome Unabomber trivia (much culled from

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