A Stand-Up Guy
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
The most interesting man in the world I’m not. I don’t read a lot of fiction anymore, to my dismay, but when I do, it’s usually Michael Snyder. His first novel, My Name Is Russell Fink, is a realistic and lighthearted case study in Family Systems Theory without the evolutionary baggage. His second novel, Return Policy, is a successful exercise in multiple narrators during which I found myself in tears a few times. I looked forward to his third novel, A Stand-Up Guy and the subject of this review, with great anticipation for over a year.
The protagonist of A Stand-Up Guy is Oliver Miles, a small-time comedian who moonlights as a hotel night security guard. Despite the hard knocks he has experienced throughout his life, he has the gift of making others laugh, including the cute and quirky kleptomaniac who has recently taken the night auditor position at the same hotel. You can never quite predict what is going to happen next in A Stand-Up Guy, a character-driven novel indebted to the style and sensibility of novelist Douglas Coupland.
A Stand-Up Guy takes more than one page out of previous Snyder novels: the protagonist’s mother is an alcoholic, making the mother-son relationship understandably complicated; the budding romance between the protagonist and another main character begins much like a schoolboy crush but blossoms into something deeper; the twists and turns in the plot (a hallmark of Snyder’s work) keep the reader guessing right up until the last page.
Yet these are among the very items that work against A Stand-Up Guy‘s effort to match the success of Snyder’s other novels. As one who had greatly enjoyed his previous two, I was a bit wearied by the return of the alcoholic mother, although I must admit that this subplot provided the deepest moments of pathos in the narrative. Similarly, I would like to see romance handled a bit differently in future Snyder novels, although no one who reads Snyder for the first time in A Stand-Up Guy is likely to feel as I do about that particular matter. Finally, while I do enjoy being taken for a ride in terms of plot incident, there didn’t seem to be adequate set-up for many of the twists and turns in the story of Oliver Miles.
I wondered at a few junctures if many of the problems (I perceived) hinge upon the main character himself? At times I felt he was barely a protagonist. Yes, he is sympathetic insofar as his mother raised him poorly, despite which he comes across as a competent and functional human being. But while reading I did find myself craving a few Dickensian-type moments in which the narrative simply told me what he looked like – or was like – in full or in part. Perhaps a wider range of human emotion would have helped. But Oliver did not often transcend the parameters of his occupation or his avocation. Indeed, most of the time it was difficult to discern what was comedic in the comedic acts. I certainly didn’t feel part of the comedy club audience, even though I wanted to.
Allow me to emphasize once again that this review is highly influenced by the reviewer’s enjoyment of Synder’s first two novels. Snyder is a gifted writer who deserves to be read even when he isn’t at his absolute best.