Book Notes: Jennifer Kitses Small Hours
Finally I found an American novel of the crisis. By crisis I, of course, mean not the 2008 Recession but the transformations in the global economy and the nation-state model that American writers have been studiously ignoring. (I get a list of all new novels published in the US and I read it faithfully for signs of anything even vaguely related to the crisis. There’s been nothing until now.)
The protagonists of Kitses’ Small Hours are a struggling middle-aged couple with small children that is stuck between the growing lumpen class and the highly mobile, prosperous elite. They longingly gaze at the opulent lives of the latter while realizing they are about to slip down towards the former. They try to imitate the fluid lifestyle of the mobile elites but this only compromises them further.
Kitses should be commended for at least trying to write about something other than boozy rich brats with complicated sex lives or escapist fantasies about heroic individuals, which are obsessive topics for the rest of American writers today.
The novel ends up being just half an inch above mediocre. Kitses tries too hard to cram every marker of the changing times into the novel, creating a sensation that she is ticking off boxes rather than writing. There is also a frustrating attempt to fashion a happy ending that sounds cheesy and contrived.
The novel’s promise lies in what is clearly its unintended yet still valuable humor. The protagonists of the novel are constantly exhausted. They complain about their enormous workloads and fear losing their precarious employment. The only thing they don’t do, however, is actually work. What the novel portrays is not simply a lack of a work ethic, it’s a veritable war on work. There is a glimmer of an interesting insight here but the author leaves it to us to pursue it.
Small Hours is not a great work of literature but at least it’s not escapist, which is a great achievement these days.