How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets
by Garth Stein, reading at Annie Bloom's, 7834 SW Capitol Hwy, Thurs May 12

Evan is the ultimate hipster anti-hero: an emotionally retarded, self-obsessed, aloof slacker who just happens to be a virtuoso on the guitar and incredibly attractive to boot. In a nutshell, Evan is the guy I wanted to date when I was 12 years old--until I grew up, and self-conscious posturing lost its appeal. Unfortunately, the writing and the character in Garth Stein's new book, How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets, suffer from the same flaw: both are self-conscious without being self-aware. It's well and good to have an unlikable protagonist, so long as it's done with intent. Evan is unlikable by virtue of the ideal of "coolness" that he represents, which is both dated and trite. This is why it's so painful to trudge along with Evan for the 350 pages it takes him to have the crystalline moment of self-actualization found in so many mediocre Gen X-type novels.

The path Evan takes toward said actualization is painfully contrived. Upon the death of his high school girlfriend, he learns that he has a teenaged son. He temporarily assumes custody of the boy, who needless to say harbors some resentment about the whole absentee dad thing. Evan tries to be a good father, but he has a secret: he's epileptic, and he frequently puts himself in danger by ignoring his condition. The "secret weakness" angle is as cliched as a barrel of monkeys, though Stein does pack the book with some interesting facts about epilepsy, and he gets props for endowing Evan with seizures instead of something more predictable (like drug addiction or mental illness).

Immediately after meeting his son, Evan encounters the perfect girl: she's sexy, brilliant, wears revealing clothes, and is smart enough to see through Evan's bullshit. With the help of his girlfriend, Evan eventually grows up and gets responsible and they all live happily ever after.

This book irritated me on every possible level, but it's still a fast and fairly engaging read: perfect for plane rides, waiting rooms, or any other situation where you're reading for purely anesthetic purposes.

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