On its surface, the teen angst-ridden Everything Happens Today would seem perfectly pitched to readers hoping for the second coming of Holden Caulfield.
Wes is 17, a likable, private school student, the sort of bookish boy who experiences an existential crisis when he loses his virginity in a Bloody-Mary haze at a party. Jesse Browner's novel makes an elegant examination of the day after the party, in a milieu that will remind movie buffs of "Metropolitan," Whit Stillman's 1990 comedy of manners.
Browner wraps most of Everything Happens Today around an elaborate Manhattan dinner Wes prepares, hoping to reunite his terminally ill mother, his philandering father and his beloved little sister, who copes by taking on the personality of a boy named Bobby.
As in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the meal preparation gives Browner a way into his protagonist's head, as Wes makes connections between Buddhists and butchers. Occasionally this results in overlong Proustian passages, but when Wes contends with a morass of "exhaustion, shame, hopelessness, and loss," he's no Holden Caulfield. He recognizes his failings, and for the most part, contends with problems that aren't of his own making.
He also has a winning sense of humor.