Eli Schwartz is the slack-jawed, tubby-tummied hero of Flatscreen, the sophomore effort of US writer Adam Wilson. Eli has graduated high school only to find himself jobless, girlfriendless, and living in a condo in suburbia with his depresso, wine-guzzling Mom. YAWN, right? But then things take a turn for the sorta interesting when he develops a friendship with the washed-up actor who moves into his childhood home. This guy, Seymour Kahn, is also wheelchair-bound, with a penchant for prescription drugs, strippers, and according to Eli, Eli himself. Seymour has a messed up little family he tries to stay away from, much like Eli, so the two get along great guns … until, that is, one of them gets shot. Yeah, for real.
Author Wilson is a former TV blogger for Flavorwire
so it’s no surprise his writing is peppered with about a million movie references and lots of OMG internet shorthand speak. It’s about as easy to chomp through as confectionary, and eventually gives you just about as much of a headache. The best joke is when the Mom ends up moving to Florida to date a Jeff Goldblum-But-Spelt-Differently. From all these cultural in-jokes, I guess we’re supposed to feel like Eli is our buddy, our friendly neighbourhood dropkick … but really, if I met this guy at a party, I’d probably clink beer bottles and move on.
You can definitely see a pattern here. Eli sits comfortably alongside other 20th century apathetic anti-heroes: I’m thinking the phony-phobic Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye, or even Reality Bites’ couch-surfing stubblefest, Troy Dyer. In fact, Flatscreen would’ve probably been more comfortable in the 90s full-stop. It’s angst-ridden and makes some questionable fashion choices – with Eli spending a few scenes swanning about stoned in a flannel bed robe.
That said, Flatscreen does a convincing job of communicating to us the malaise of a modern-day America, which really hasn’t changed that much since then. By the end of the novel you don’t up caring much … but then, maybe that’s the point.