Have you ever wondered what really keeps people afloat? Or perhaps you've been compelled to study the tortured urine-cloud tornado-man on the bus. Maybe you just let someone complete an entire pitch to get you to join Amway.
If you have ventured into "street" anthropology, you and Well author Matthew McIntosh may share an interest. At twenty-six, McIntosh's pen does not betray any of the obvious literary follies of youth; his stories reek of actual experience. Well's characters feel real, and could not be detected as fictitious by myself. And I come from scarily similar socio-economic and geographic environs.
Well's setting is Federal Way, an armpit along Highway 99, just south of Seattle (think Troutdale). Federal Way, however, is just the pot the soup is cooked in. Well's cast are like familiar thrift store Polaroids; too hideous to reckon, or too normal. They are kept alive by a thread, possibly Federal Way, but more likely, the almost-there '97 Seattle SuperSonics, or drugs, or the local watering hole, or even one another. The point is, something binds them together. This same intangible also holds them in place, forever leaving some of them empty while the others are left to run-off down a dead end street, or worse. Some never intersect the lives of the other characters at all. For readers who require a cohesive plot or meaningful dialogue, this can be maddening. For those who do not, it's pure gold: a kind of written impressionism. McIntosh's construct of one-sided conversations is masterful, often handling the subtleties through behavioral descriptions rather than dialogue. He has pegged the phenomenon that allows individuals to talk themselves into or out of situations. This includes self-satiation and settling for less.
An obvious comparison to Matthew McIntosh's debut effort is Raymond Carver's Short Cuts. Both have their finger on the pulse of Americana. Well, however, has as much in common with the work of graphic novelist Daniel Clowes or director Todd Solondz's film, Happiness. They are all akin to this intangible common thread, the uber-reality that enthralls those fascinated with chronicling the misadventures of America's "Budweiser and Huggies" junior varsity. LANCE CHESS