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The San Francisco Chronicle: "Every page...offers something to savor."

Date: Nov 27 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Everything Happens Today

By Jesse Browner

(Europa Editions; 216 pages; $15 paperback)

"Everything Happens Today," by the author and translator Jesse Browner, is a coming-of-age novel, but don't expect an epic bildungsroman or a cynical, misanthropic protagonist in the style of Holden Caulfield.

Over the course of a single Saturday, the novel follows a precocious 17-year-old, Wes, who lives in New York's Greenwich Village. Wes is an intellectual snob who loves doing crossword puzzles and aspires to become a "serious" writer, not a failed one like his father.

Although he lost his virginity the night before, Wes is in no mood to celebrate. Instead, he's mired in "exhaustion, shame, hopelessness and loss." That's because he had sex with Lucy, a student at the exclusive private school he attends, but he's in love - hopelessly, of course - with another girl, Delia. Wes aches with heartbreak and yearning, and he feels paralyzed, Hamlet-like, by indecision about what to do next.

Making matters worse, his English teacher flatly rejected the glib essay he submitted, and has demanded a revised paper on "War and Peace" first thing Monday morning.

Plus, he has to deal with the usual awkward attempts at conversation from his hapless father, whom he regards with hostility. (It's Wes, rather than his father, who holds the family together.) And he hasn't even begun shopping for the elaborate dinner - sweetbread - that he's promised to cook for his bedridden mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Wes' only consolation is his 12-year-old sister, Nora, whom he adores beyond measure.

This fine novel is "of the moment" in its mentions of technology throughout: Wes listening to his iPod; checking the iPhone that chimes constantly with text messages; rejecting his father's request to "friend" him on Facebook; reading updates from friends on Twitter. Yet there is something wonderfully old-fashioned in the slow, quiet unfolding of this story. Browner's prose is exquisite, and the rich inner life of his sensitive protagonist is utterly absorbing. When Wes realizes that, despite his sexual awakening, he is no different than the day before, the revelation is both a burden and a relief.

At one point, an exasperated Lucy tells Wes, "You're never talking about what you're talking about." That's part of his charm, and each page of "Everything Happens Today" offers much to savor.

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