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. 


12 thoughts on “Book Notes: Jennifer Kitses Small Hours ”

  1. Anti-“work ethic” is not necessarily a “war on work”.
    Most paying jobs are essentially useless perfunctory rituals, created to foster the illusion of “accomplishment” and to “justify one’s existence” in the minds of the guilt-ridden …while not accomplishing much of anything worthwhile in and of themselves.

    Often one can produce and accomplish far more by way of hobbies and personal passions they work on for their own satisfaction.
    And often the results of such far outweigh those of structured wage work and “professional” type occupations.


  2. I wanted to ask your general opinion about literary criticism. Could such a novel be analyzed academically (in an article or a thesis) since it’s one of the first English novels to deal with the crisis, or would it “being just half an inch above mediocre” make choosing it for a thesis not the best idea?


    1. As McGuigan says, there has been a huge push to erase distinctions between high culture and trashy pseudo culture. This is done under the guise of a democratic approach but ultimately serves the needs of neoliberalism.

      So the answer is that yes, absolutely you can and are expected to accord trash like 50 Shades of Gray the same respect you accord to Don Quixote. Whenever I say otherwise, my colleagues suffer an apoplexy. Which demonstrates how much their minds have been hijacked by neoliberal ideology.


      1. I understand your point about the “democratic” approach, but I asked your own opinion regarding whether this book can be extensively analyzed or whether it’s better to choose an old, good classic.

        I remember falling in love with the language and the main character of “The Longest Journey.” My dream is to find a novel of the crisis, ideally a bildungsroman, which would have literary value and speak to me personally too.

        On another note, have you read “The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel” which wiki describes as “a 1935 novel by the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana”?


        1. High literature is being written today, too, so it doesn’t have to be old. But yes, I could write a long article on this novel if I needed to.

          I don’t think a novel of the crisis can be a Bildingsroman because the nature of the two genre contradicts each other.

          I’m terrified of memoirs and never read anything that uses this word even facetiously.


          1. \ High literature is being written today, too, so it doesn’t have to be old.

            I have asked you before and you said you haven’t found neither modern English novels of the crisis nor Bildingsromans yet. Has it changed?

            I have been searching for either of the two, and haven’t found yet. Would be grateful for any recommendations, so if you find / have found – please, do post about it.

            Regarding “Small Hours,” thank you for the review and I will search for the novel and read it.


            1. I’m not looking for Bildungsromane because I believe the genre is dead. Just like the nation-state. They were born together and they died together.

              But as for the crisis novel, it will appear eventually. Probably not soon, though.


              1. I’m not looking for Bildungsromane because I believe the genre is dead. Just like the nation-state. They were born together and they died together.
                What makes Bildungsromane dead? Is it the idea of a coherent progression from a beginning to an end (or maturity) dead for nations and people?

                When I tried to write an obit for my grandfather, I noted the path of his adult life mirrored the path of shifting borders and political reorganizations. That seemed profound to me but odd to everyone else.


    1. Gone Girl is more in the “rich spoiled brats with endless sex drama” territory. It’s fun, I loved it but it’s rich people’s problems.

      There’s never anything but self-aggrandizement masked as self-deprecation in memoirs. Hate tyem.


  3. Where did you find the novel? I checked in a book shop and it will be only in the summer, and ordering it will take another month.


    1. I get sent any new releases I wamt for free before the date of publication because my reviews are valuable. Which is why many books I review haven’t appeared in print yet.

      Actually, setting aside false modesty, authors beg me to read and review their books all the time.


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