Evaluation | Comic Steven Wright’s first novel seems like … Steven Wright

The Nineteen Eighties comedy scene is likely to be finest remembered for flashy provocateurs like Eddie Murphy and Andrew Cube Clay. But it surely was additionally a superb time to be a little bit extra right down to earth and much more offbeat. “It’s Garry Shandling’s Present” deconstructed the sitcom. The absurdist zine Military Man was a proving floor for writers who would work on “The Simpsons” throughout its glory years. Invoice Hicks was as sharp about politics as he was his acid journeys. After which there was Steven Wright, an overthinking weirdo who seemed and acted like he’d rolled off the bed 5 minutes earlier than hitting the stage and populated his units with non sequiturs and drowsily delivered one-liners: “I spilled spot remover on my canine, he’s gone now.”

Wright’s debut novel, “Harold,” is essentially an effort to transpose his stand-up sensibility to fiction. Plotwise, little or no occurs. Its title hero is a 7-year-old boy attending his third-grade class in suburban Massachusetts. It’s 1965, and Harold’s instructor is reminding him to recollect his upcoming assignments. However he’s the type of child who isn’t going to get boxed in by assignments, or reminding, or remembering. He’s sensible however psychically fully off the grid. “He did extra pondering than somebody his age,” Wright explains. “Or any age.”

Although Wright, now 67, doesn’t dwell on diagnoses, Harold’s busy mind is sort of definitely a case of ADHD. And the background particulars that glint into the story counsel he’s processing a trauma or two: His mom has been briefly institutionalized, so he’s lately spent a summer season dwelling together with his crusty grandfather. If there’s a father round, Harold is stubbornly decided to consider something however.

David Duchovny desires to be taken severely as a novelist. His new e book makes a superb case.

As an alternative, his skull turns into a vaudeville revue of curious musings, which he imagines as birds fluttering in a “rectangle in his head.” Lots of these ideas are tart and aphoristic in a really Wright-ian means. As an illustration:

“Wouldn’t or not it’s nice if he had a pair of glass backside footwear that he might put on on the glass backside boat with no socks on in order that if the fish seemed up they might for the primary time of their lives see naked toes that weren’t within the water.”

Or: “Harold questioned if chook angels would have 4 wings.”

Or: “How completely different it will be if, when boats pulled enormous nets out of the ocean stuffed with 1000’s of fish, the fish had been screaming in horror.”

Or: “Being in love was like being on a seesaw the place one aspect contained nitroglycerin.”

And so forth. The themes of Wright’s riffing are in every single place, accommodating black-and-white vs. shade movie, inside bleeding, Lakota folklore, house exploration. The daydreamscapes are far-flung too: Harold imagines himself visiting a cemetery with a classmate, then kicking again at a espresso store on the moon, the place he discusses the state of the universe with astronomer Carl Sagan. The oddness of the settings hardly issues, although; nearly each aspect of “Harold” is subordinate to its job as a supply system for Wright’s observations. (Unsurprisingly, he initially conceived the e book as a novel-in-tweets.)

“Harold” is usually humorous, and its refusal to remain in a single place means it by no means feels labored. However: Is it a novel? Although there are characters, there’s little in the best way of character improvement. Harold returns to the matter of his institutionalized mom solely intermittently, and as little greater than an object of worry or fury. (Understandably: She as soon as unintentionally put wine in his thermos.) His grandfather brings storm clouds of darkish observations and antics that might require a truckload of psychiatrists to untangle. He tells Harold that each one the chairs across the eating room desk have been occupied by individuals who have hanged themselves. (“Kiddingly,” Wright notes. Ha … ha?) Later, he takes Harold to a marriage and matches him in a marionette swimsuit, clipping his strings. Which may qualify as symbolism — possibly — if there have been a transparent story the symbols referred to.

And that’s setting apart odd turns, factual infelicities and jokes that don’t land. Why is Harold chatting up Carl Sagan in 1965, years earlier than he turned a pop-science family title? Why is the story considering the schoolteacher’s intercourse life? Why are we on the moon, once more? To which Wright can solely reply: Who cares and so what? Riffing on a photograph taken by an area probe in 1990, he notes: “If you happen to’re questioning how Harold would know of this {photograph} … thoughts your individual enterprise.”

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Besides that’s not possible, what with Harold nattering on about childhood anxiousness and lunar dwelling as if Donald Barthelme had been assigned to rewrite “The Little Prince.” Harold is directly compelling and irritating as a result of he’s so unshaped: His thoughts is a stew of schoolbook info, alertness to grownup hypocrisy, household dysfunction and miscellaneous psychic injury. Which is to say, a strong formulation for a stand-up comedian. (Wright’s studying of the “Harold” audiobook is very like his stand-up — deliberate, deadpan and leavened only a bit by his thick Boston accent.)

However a manic child whose mind refuses to remain in a single place isn’t fairly the identical factor as a narrative a few manic child. To be charitable, Wright has invented one thing right here: A narrative a few little one that refuses to be childlike, authored by an creator who refuses to faux that there’s order to the disorganized thoughts of a too-smart child who can’t carry on activity. “In life a lot of occasions there isn’t any logic,” Wright writes. “Tons and plenty of occasions. A number of occasions.” For higher and for worse, tons and plenty of these occasions are between the covers of this e book.

Mark Athitakis is a critic in Phoenix and the creator of “The New Midwest.”

Simon & Schuster. 256 pp. $26

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