The Long Haul  

W e see it coming, just like any good friend does: this guy is no good. This guy is bad news. And just in case we don't see it coming, Amanda Stern makes it quite obvious for us. In her new novel, The Long Haul, her narrator is unnamed, while the narrator's boyfriend is referred to as only, The Alcoholic. We know from the beginning this is bad news.

But we don't know how bad it's going to get, or how it's going to end, and in that there is a story. The couple is young, just out of college. They're trying to find themselves as individuals, and as a couple. However, all The Alcoholic knows is he needs to be taken care of, and so he'll do every manipulative thing he can think of to get it done. As the narrator says late in the book, "He always wanted a mother, someone who will love him unconditionally, and here he's gone and made one."

The narrator doesn't have a name, because she no longer recognizes herself. She's so tired, so run down and despondent, she doesn't even know who she is. The idea for the lack of names is clever, and sets an interesting mood, but eventually becomes a serious hurdle for the book, acting as a barrier between the reader and the narrator. Regardless of how much we learn about her, or how much we start to care, or not care, about her, the lack of a name means a lack of intimacy.

Given that she sets herself up with such serious hurdles, Stern does quite well with the story. By the time the book ends, the reader is equally empathetic to both characters, and it's hard to know who's really in a worse state. Stern's voice as the narrator takes on a more and more gloomy tone as the book goes on, in addition to a dream-like air. The action moves quickly in the book, and its short length flies by. While the prose can become at times too dream-like--too vague in context--it is broken up by simple, poignant thoughts: "Racing to the nursery to comfort a newborn child, racing into the bedroom to soothe her deficit of a husband. Who will take care of her?" M. WILLIAM HELFRICH

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