‘Indecision,’ an original and enjoyable novel
Dwight Wilmerding just can’t make up his mind. Natasha or Vaneetha? Pesto or Nutella? City apartment or cabin in the woods?The central character in “Indecision,” the debut novel by Eagle Valley native Benjamin Kunkel, suffers from abulia, or the chronic inability to make decisions. Aggravating premise no doubt. Yet somehow the reader has no choice but to be swept up by this delightfully neurotic and unexpectedly original tale of quarter-life crisis-cum-adventure.Twenty-eight and quickly approaching the point where society demands a college-like existence give way to a mortgage, minivan and 2.1 kids, Dwight is at a familiar crossroads. But he is not your average 20-something slacker. Exacerbated by a capitalist society in which choices abound in every grocery aisle and aptitude test, his abulia has rendered him virtually paralyzed. Like a jittery game show contestant, he can’t help but wonder if there is something more rewarding behind door No. 3.To a certain extent, Dwight’s calmingly repetitious tech support job at Pfizer, shabby apartment populated by a “cozy set of underachievers,” and his reliance on coin tosses when making daily decisions have kept his head above water. However, the lease on his apartment is almost up, his quasi-girlfriend has been exhibiting distressing signs of attachment, Pfizer has unceremoniously “pfired,” him and the Twin Towers have been stolen from the Manhattan skyline. What should Dwight do?
Fortunately, a med school roommate with questionable ethics has the answer: Abulinix. A trial drug designed to cure indecision, Abulinix is perhaps Dwight’s only hope at seizing upon a path that stretches into a future beyond dessert. So in a move of surprising decisiveness, he swallows the first pill. What ensues – a spontaneous trip to Ecuador to rendezvous with a prep school crush, followed by an entertaining trek into the jungle with a sexy Belgian stranger – is assumed to be the result of the miracle drug flooding his brain.”Indecision” is not lacking in interesting secondary characters (Dwight’s affable, scotch-swigging father and his eccentric anthropologist/psychoanalyst sister, on whom he is disturbingly fixated, come to mind), but reading about what percolates in Dwight’s befuddled head proves to be the novel’s primary draw. Dwight is an original.Kunkel ultimately manages to endear readers to a character who in real life would be exasperatingly indecipherable and inaccessible. This is no small feat, considering that personality flaws beyond indecision burden him. Readers can be forgiven, for instance, for agreeing with his musing that he probably would make a better dog owner than a boyfriend.Despite Dwight’s failings, it is difficult not to experience a deep, mildly uncomfortable kinship with him. Aided by Kunkel’s sharp and economical prose, Dwight emerges as someone capable of illuminating those fears and insecurities we try so hard to suppress. Wise and observant in spite of his stunted emotional growth, he is acutely aware that every choice, monumental or mundane, necessarily means that other options forever slip away. “Sometimes,” he observes, “you realize how the future is a place where no one has been, and from which you don’t come back.”
At a time when many fictional works are increasingly serious and grim, a romp through Kunkel’s enjoyable and often downright silly novel is a nice reprieve. In life, as Dwight ascertains, emotions may not be transmittable, but his cynical-yet-accepting view of the world successfully imprints onto his audience and induces more than a few snickers of glee.Yet this should not be considered a frivolous work. Interspersed among decisions of what to eat and when to sleep, Dwight grapples with a significant amount of weighty issues. And there are plenty of earnest philosophical ramblings to be found (many, admittedly, fueled by recreational drug use), most notably when he finds himself at the mercy of an inhospitable third-world country and a strong-willed woman. Although some of Dwight’s pronouncements are marked by a loftiness that can translate as annoyingly preachy, there is enough self-deprecation and humor to render them palatable.It is natural to wonder how much “Dwightness” lurks in Kunkel, a literary critic and a founding editor of the lit journal “n+1,” given the deftness with which he conjures up Dwight’s empathetic, astute and engaging disposition. In any case, readers will be comforted with the knowledge that there is someone out there who understands their joys and fears, disillusionments and fantasies. “Indecision” is a novel unlike any in recent memory, and in Dwight Wilmerding one discovers a genuine, fully-realized voice that echoes into the room long after the book has been set aside.Published by Random House, “Indecision” is set to release Tuesday and can be bought at local independent bookstores The Bookworm in Edwards and Verbatim Booksellers in Vail Village.
A second-generation Vail local, Tiffany Martin recently graduated from CU Boulder with a degree in English literature and currently works at The Bookworm in Edwards.Vail, Colorado
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