by David Dorrough

"Immediately it occurred to him that he felt some affection toward most of the people currently gathered in this house, and had derived amusement from all of them."

This character-driven comedic novel centers on middle-aged couple Yvonne and Bill Smede and a motley crew of their friends and family as they all navigate life in current-day Los Angeles. Yvonne and Bill have a mostly functional marriage and bond over their many loops around the neighborhood to increase their step count each day. Their neighbor Gary starts an intense marathon-training plan that takes him through mishaps around the country (and even outside of it). Yvonne’s friend and boss is phone-fixated Laura, whose husband is a con man turned EMT (and sometimes EMT turned con man). Her college friend Juice fixates on a Facebook profile that she is certain belongs to a woman who stole a necklace from her in high school. Another of Yvonne’s friends from work, Amy, goes on a complicated search for her biological parents while her husband watches the kids and searches for a mint-condition comic book. Her dear friend Francisco has everything: brains, money, looks, and style. Yet his love life is a disaster.

Though Yvonne’s husband, Bill, avoids socialization as much as possible, he also has friends with their own tales to tell. For example, there’s Matt, the most content person on earth, who is on a literal treasure hunt. Then there’s Bill’s foul-mouthed friend Irene, who recruits him to help with her plan to develop an AI-powered music device to varying degrees of success. While each of the characters’ stories has separate arcs, they also converge many times throughout the novel. The author’s well-written narrative is full of observational humor and weaves all these different threads together to create a tapestry of human experience.

With the exception of a few characters’ short-term journeys out of the city, the novel focuses almost entirely on Los Angeles and its immediate environs. The book reads like a satiric love song to the city, with constant reminders of its congested highways and difficult parking situations, references to its palm trees and dog-poop-bag-covered lawns, and discussions of restaurants that serve all-vegan burgers and all-meat salads. Dorrough’s Los Angeles is peopled with as many eccentrics as it is accountants and lawyers, and they all lend even more personality to the setting.

This book defies easy categorization. It is about everything and nothing in the way that Seinfeld is a “show about nothing.” Indeed, the way the text divides each character’s adventures into small pieces over the course of the book feels very much like the episodic nature of a sitcom. Similar to Twain’s novels or Dickens' The Pickwick Papers, the narrative contains and describes many characters who are simply adjacent to the action. These people show slice-of-life moments or hilarious asides, such as the restaurant server who sidelines as an actor but dreams of waiting tables at the best restaurants, or a young woman who longs to be a successful robber but continually flubs every attempt to hold up the same convenience store. Often, behind the humor is a reflection of current society and its many coincidences, joys, achievements, and disconnects.

The ridiculous situations that almost all the characters find themselves in bring to mind the humor of A Confederacy of Dunces, but unlike Toole, Dorrough writes his satire with compassion. His characters may be ridiculous, but their creator never ridicules them. The large cast is easily differentiated because of Dorrough’s strong descriptions and even better dialogue. The dialogue itself is so well constructed that each character’s voice is completely their own–and completely realistic. The world of this novel is as relevant, relatable, and touching as it is entertaining.

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