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A wry, supersmart, seriocomic first novel from a prodigious talent—a Sentimental Education for our time For young writers of a certain temperament—if they haven’t had such notions beaten out of them by MFA programs and the Internet—the delusion persists that great writing must be sought in what W. B. Yeats once called the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” That’s where A wry, supersmart, seriocomic first novel from a prodigious talent—a Sentimental Education for our time For young writers of a certain temperament—if they haven’t had such notions beaten out of them by MFA programs and the Internet—the delusion persists that great writing must be sought in what W. B. Yeats once called the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” That’s where Peter Cunningham has been looking for inspiration for his novel—that is, when he isn’t teaching at the local women’s prison, walking his dog, getting high, and wondering whether it’s time to tie the knot with his college girlfriend, a medical student whose night shifts have become a standing rebuke to his own lack of direction. When Peter meets Leslie, a sexual adventurer taking a break from her fiancé, he gets a glimpse of what he wishes and imagines himself to be: a writer of talent and nerve. Her rag-and-bone shop may be as squalid as his own, but at least she knows her way around the shelves. Over the course of a Virginia summer, their charged, increasingly intimate friendship opens the door to difficult questions about love and literary ambition. With a keen irony reminiscent of Sam Lipsyte or Lorrie Moore, and a romantic streak as wide as Roberto Bolaño’s, Andrew Martin’s Early Work marks the debut of a writer as funny and attentive as any novelist of his generation.


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A wry, supersmart, seriocomic first novel from a prodigious talent—a Sentimental Education for our time For young writers of a certain temperament—if they haven’t had such notions beaten out of them by MFA programs and the Internet—the delusion persists that great writing must be sought in what W. B. Yeats once called the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” That’s where A wry, supersmart, seriocomic first novel from a prodigious talent—a Sentimental Education for our time For young writers of a certain temperament—if they haven’t had such notions beaten out of them by MFA programs and the Internet—the delusion persists that great writing must be sought in what W. B. Yeats once called the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” That’s where Peter Cunningham has been looking for inspiration for his novel—that is, when he isn’t teaching at the local women’s prison, walking his dog, getting high, and wondering whether it’s time to tie the knot with his college girlfriend, a medical student whose night shifts have become a standing rebuke to his own lack of direction. When Peter meets Leslie, a sexual adventurer taking a break from her fiancé, he gets a glimpse of what he wishes and imagines himself to be: a writer of talent and nerve. Her rag-and-bone shop may be as squalid as his own, but at least she knows her way around the shelves. Over the course of a Virginia summer, their charged, increasingly intimate friendship opens the door to difficult questions about love and literary ambition. With a keen irony reminiscent of Sam Lipsyte or Lorrie Moore, and a romantic streak as wide as Roberto Bolaño’s, Andrew Martin’s Early Work marks the debut of a writer as funny and attentive as any novelist of his generation.

30 review for Early Work

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Mildly amusing story about a lazy, dissipated young writer who drinks a lot, cheats on his hard-working girlfriend and doesn’t do much writing. Do we need another story like this one? I’m not convinced we do. “Early Work” feels lax; ironic confession of immaturity isn’t really all that interesting. “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” is sharper and wittier.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    So genuinely shallow. Reading this novel was very much like listening to a member of my generation, at once self-absorbed and somehow entirely un-self-aware, gripe for far too long at a bar. There were moments of pleasing recognition as Martin discussed my town or the trappings of Charlottesville living, but even these highlights faded; the narrator is incapable of turning off the lazy cynicism that is such a depressing hallmark of people my age. Whine about everything in your easy life and then So genuinely shallow. Reading this novel was very much like listening to a member of my generation, at once self-absorbed and somehow entirely un-self-aware, gripe for far too long at a bar. There were moments of pleasing recognition as Martin discussed my town or the trappings of Charlottesville living, but even these highlights faded; the narrator is incapable of turning off the lazy cynicism that is such a depressing hallmark of people my age. Whine about everything in your easy life and then continue to make ruinous decision after ruinous decision. Have the privileged young always been this way? (Yes.) This novel will really make one hate one’s own peer group. Perhaps that was the point?

  3. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    This novel, about a book-obsessed love triangle in their mid-late twenties, really hit me at the right time. With a healthy amount of self-awareness and willful lack of direction, aspiring writer Pete guides the reader through his daily activities and highly interesting love life. Though the central appeal of this novel for me was the hilariously relatable bookish rogues who leave parties to catch up on their reading, the drama of Pete, Julia, and Leslie’s romantic entanglement helped to propel This novel, about a book-obsessed love triangle in their mid-late twenties, really hit me at the right time. With a healthy amount of self-awareness and willful lack of direction, aspiring writer Pete guides the reader through his daily activities and highly interesting love life. Though the central appeal of this novel for me was the hilariously relatable bookish rogues who leave parties to catch up on their reading, the drama of Pete, Julia, and Leslie’s romantic entanglement helped to propel things along. I also enjoyed this novel between beers on vacation, and Early Work functions well on this mental wavelength given the leads are so often ossified. With a healthy amount of booze, weed, and other miscellaneous mind-alterers, there’s plenty of loose philosophical pondering, strange parties, and hilarious conversations. It’s to Martin’s credit that he so accurately brings to life the mind of a stoned man at, say, a dinner with a friend that it feels peeled from one’s own life rather than forced. What’s more, there’s oodles of steamy and perfunctory sex in Early Work. Since Martin seems intent on bringing to life the struggle of modern relationship and complex sexual dynamics, it’s appropriate that so much of the book hinges on the sexual desires of the characters. Sex is treated as more of a separate entity from emotional attachment, though there’s an appreciation that the two are often intertwined. This may not be the most impressive literary novel I read this year, but it was raucously entertaining and personally meaningful. For my fellow 20-somethings, there’s a good chance you’ll find a lot to like. For those 20-somethings who are book-obsessed like myself, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Zia Bird

    If you want to learn more about random Millennials with underwhelming personality traits you can just go to your local coffee shop or $12 vegan donut establishment and wait around there for say, three whole minutes. What you learn might very well shock you. They listlessly repeat the word "Awesome" for no apparent reason! They're wild about the gig economy! They're seldom aware of their immediate surroundings nor the people they are actively conversing with because they just posted an Instagram If you want to learn more about random Millennials with underwhelming personality traits you can just go to your local coffee shop or $12 vegan donut establishment and wait around there for say, three whole minutes. What you learn might very well shock you. They listlessly repeat the word "Awesome" for no apparent reason! They're wild about the gig economy! They're seldom aware of their immediate surroundings nor the people they are actively conversing with because they just posted an Instagram of their beverage and it got 22 likes!! Whatever it is you do learn though, I guarantee you, will be more riveting than this entire book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    The latest in what has become a clear type of first novel from young, American, usually NYC-based authors (though this only is thankfully set somewhere else): witty, sharply observed romance plots about late-twenty- and thirty-something intellectuals and literary types trying to make their way, half-heartedly. Some are observant about class and the economic conditions of end-of-the-century capitalism, others about gender relations, but all of them are centered on interpersonal relationships. This The latest in what has become a clear type of first novel from young, American, usually NYC-based authors (though this only is thankfully set somewhere else): witty, sharply observed romance plots about late-twenty- and thirty-something intellectuals and literary types trying to make their way, half-heartedly. Some are observant about class and the economic conditions of end-of-the-century capitalism, others about gender relations, but all of them are centered on interpersonal relationships. This type of novel is always fun to read because they go down easy and are essentially sociologies of my demographic. "Early Work" stands out for being polished, hyper-self-aware, and consistently funny (though they are all shaped by layers of reflexive distance). The questions I have are: 1) is it possible for ambitious young writers to write about other kinds of people in other kinds of places? and 2) is it possible to have more thinking and ideas in fiction, rather than just plot-driven comedies of morals? Like I said, I enjoy books like this, but they're essentially highbrow beach reads. It seems our times call for something a bit more ambitious.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bowen Tibbetts

    There’s nothing zeitgeist-y about this book, no “#MeToo” connections or disguised political commentary that will make it the “Must Read Book of the Summer.” If anything, it’s #problematic. Early Work is about a straight white guy who thinks he’s smarter than everyone around and cheats on his long-term girlfriend. But I gobbled it up just the same on a flight from Boston to Milwaukee and I loved every minute of it. Our protagonist, Peter Cunningham, is a wannabe writer whose day job is ostensibly There’s nothing zeitgeist-y about this book, no “#MeToo” connections or disguised political commentary that will make it the “Must Read Book of the Summer.” If anything, it’s #problematic. Early Work is about a straight white guy who thinks he’s smarter than everyone around and cheats on his long-term girlfriend. But I gobbled it up just the same on a flight from Boston to Milwaukee and I loved every minute of it. Our protagonist, Peter Cunningham, is a wannabe writer whose day job is ostensibly teaching creative writing classes at a women’s prison, but there’s no way he could make ends meet without the support of his girlfriend, Julia, who works crazy hours at the local hospital. Peter is a borderline alcoholic and often uses his lack of sobriety as a crutch for the poor choices that he makes. In the vein of The Catcher in the Rye, Peter is unimpressed by the people around him, except for Leslie, another writer who has arrived in Virginia to (supposedly) work on her novel over the summer. Peter is enthralled with Leslie and soon begins an affair with her. There’s a lack of tension in regards to sex throughout the book, which was surprising. The tendency with books about infidelity, I think, is to treat the initial sexual encounter as a massive turning point that the narrative drive towards and then the fall out is what the book drifts towards in the remaining pages. Call it a millennial affectation, or whatever you want, but every character in this book is wildly casual towards sex. Sex is a means to an end, rather than the act itself. Take Molly, for example. Molly is a friend of Peter and Julia who organizes “parties” where she supplies special brownies and makes everyone watch black and white art house films and Michael Jackson documentaries. Molly has several hookups throughout the story, always on the periphery, reflecting Peter’s desires in the distance. Molly’s sexual activities are never used for drama, only for character building. Most authors will drop in pop culture references in an effort to say, “Look how cool I am.” This is particularly true when it comes to debut novels, and there are a lot of sand traps littered in this novel (Kendrick Lamar, Don DeLillo, etc.) but Martin sidesteps them with skill. When Peter is dropping the n-word while rapping in his car, it doesn’t feel awkward, forced or out of place—it feels like Peter is a real person. Yeah, he’s a liberal white guy living in Virginia with a college degree, aka the exact kind of person that thinks he can shout the n word but only if he’s singing along to a Pulitzer winner. The references aren’t there to show off; they’re placed carefully by an author who knows everything about his characters. This emphasis on character is what makes Early Work such an outstanding read, if it is lacking on plot; and it’s not that I see myself in Peter (although I’m sure there are several ex-girlfriend’s of mine that would insist the opposite), but he’s so well developed he feels more realized than more or less every other character of 2018. Is Peter a good person? No. Is Peter giving voice to a marginalized audience? Absolutely not. But there’s enough to his character that any reader can find a latching on point. In some regards, Peter is even a tragic character; aware of the decisions he should be making and continually goes against them, Peter follows his gut where he should follow his brain. Early Work is not saying anything grand about society—if anything, the concept of “early work” runs throughout the book and bleeds into real life, this novel is author Martin’s debut, his early work. It’s dipping its foot into themes that can be figured out at a later date. The reader is learning just as the author is. There’s a delicate balance with debut novels between what is trite and what is genius and Martin strikes it beautifully.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dax

    A novel about a self absorbed aspiring writer may not sound that interesting, but the dialogue is consistently intriguing and the literary references are a nice touch for us bibliophiles out there. The casual treatment of sex is refreshing- too many people take sex too seriously- but it also becomes a little tiresome after 240 pages of screwing. In an age of hypocritical moral high ground standing, this novel probably won’t be popular with a large chunk of the population (sexist, objectifying tr A novel about a self absorbed aspiring writer may not sound that interesting, but the dialogue is consistently intriguing and the literary references are a nice touch for us bibliophiles out there. The casual treatment of sex is refreshing- too many people take sex too seriously- but it also becomes a little tiresome after 240 pages of screwing. In an age of hypocritical moral high ground standing, this novel probably won’t be popular with a large chunk of the population (sexist, objectifying trash!) but it’s carefree attitude is a pleasant break from our current real world dynamics. The characters themselves are complicated and their relationships with each other are...quite something. This is more than just a fun, quick read- although it is that as well. Somewhere between 3 and 4 Stars, but I’m going to settle with a conservative 3. Pretty good book from a promising writer. Martin apparently has a short story collection set to be published soon- a format that would suit his talents well. I look forward to reading it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Nasty little book featuring utterly repellent characters. Engagingly written, I guess, but the moral vacuity of the book is a bit wearying. Also didn't appreciate the author name-dropping a lot of titles to lend a veneer of literacy - nice try, chump. Nasty little book featuring utterly repellent characters. Engagingly written, I guess, but the moral vacuity of the book is a bit wearying. Also didn't appreciate the author name-dropping a lot of titles to lend a veneer of literacy - nice try, chump.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Andrew Martin has hit it out of the park with this perceptive, breezy, at times hilarious, portrait of the generation that's come to be known as Millennials. Their self absorption is apparent, but mitigated by Peter's experiences when he teaches creative writing at a local women's prison (knowing someone who has worked in prisons as a therapist, I read these parts with great interest, and can't help but wonder if Martin himself has had this experience). He's got the language down pat, and by shi Andrew Martin has hit it out of the park with this perceptive, breezy, at times hilarious, portrait of the generation that's come to be known as Millennials. Their self absorption is apparent, but mitigated by Peter's experiences when he teaches creative writing at a local women's prison (knowing someone who has worked in prisons as a therapist, I read these parts with great interest, and can't help but wonder if Martin himself has had this experience). He's got the language down pat, and by shifting points of view, gives the proceedings a three dimensional quality. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jay Jolles

    Man this book was a trip. I felt simultaneously too old and too young to be reading it, and the characterization of Peter, Leslie, and Julia just reinforced this sentiment. What I liked about this book was it's breeziness, Martin can turn a phrase pretty deftly, and his ability to write characters that are somehow people you know and people you hate while also being people you love is such a real, real feel. Ultimately, there's not much at stake in book, it's relatively plotless in terms of cons Man this book was a trip. I felt simultaneously too old and too young to be reading it, and the characterization of Peter, Leslie, and Julia just reinforced this sentiment. What I liked about this book was it's breeziness, Martin can turn a phrase pretty deftly, and his ability to write characters that are somehow people you know and people you hate while also being people you love is such a real, real feel. Ultimately, there's not much at stake in book, it's relatively plotless in terms of constructing a story that isn't as simple as romance gone very stereotypically awry, but I was hooked from beginning to end, which probably says a lot more about me than the novel itself.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Zachary

    It's really, really good. It's not clear how he did it, which is interesting in itself. Something about voice, I guess? Anyway, I read it in two sittings, and I'm very rarely pleased. I notice that many of the negatively-inclined reviewers, in the full flower of their critical brilliance, point out that it's about young people from MFA programs and various other flavors of grad school and that some of them have sometimes lived in Brooklyn. Just so - well spotted - most incisive - nothing escapes It's really, really good. It's not clear how he did it, which is interesting in itself. Something about voice, I guess? Anyway, I read it in two sittings, and I'm very rarely pleased. I notice that many of the negatively-inclined reviewers, in the full flower of their critical brilliance, point out that it's about young people from MFA programs and various other flavors of grad school and that some of them have sometimes lived in Brooklyn. Just so - well spotted - most incisive - nothing escapes the collective insight of the internet.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nicola

    Death by disaffection.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Emi Bevacqua

    Under-achieving Peter moves to Virginia with his over-achieving girlfriend Julia. They meet and befriend fellow-newcomer Leslie, whose boyfriend is still in Texas. To varying degrees they are all writers who drink, vape, drive up debt, and live in filth. We get back story on each writer in turn, loser with writer's block, virgin poet/med-student, bi-sexual published writer; and basically are subjected to the mess of their existence together and separated. "I'm not going to be stupid and reckless Under-achieving Peter moves to Virginia with his over-achieving girlfriend Julia. They meet and befriend fellow-newcomer Leslie, whose boyfriend is still in Texas. To varying degrees they are all writers who drink, vape, drive up debt, and live in filth. We get back story on each writer in turn, loser with writer's block, virgin poet/med-student, bi-sexual published writer; and basically are subjected to the mess of their existence together and separated. "I'm not going to be stupid and reckless forever," Peter said. "Just until it stops being good material." Poor silly Peter, it never was good material to begin with.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I was viciously frustrated by this book. Every night, after reading 70 or so pages, I would declare myself done forever, so over it... and then I would pick it right back up the next night to see what was happening. It was compelling, and interesting, but I hated every one of the characters, except maybe Kenny. I would be friends with Kenny.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shadoshard

    You know those books that pisses you off because you know much better writers with more compelling stories and better writing skills that should have been published instead? This is one of those books published purely because it can be marketed to a particular segment by aiming it at them and telling them it's about them. The characters were small and petty, the humor was bleak and a lot of literary name dropping made this book very hard to swallow. It also made me feel badly for friends of mine You know those books that pisses you off because you know much better writers with more compelling stories and better writing skills that should have been published instead? This is one of those books published purely because it can be marketed to a particular segment by aiming it at them and telling them it's about them. The characters were small and petty, the humor was bleak and a lot of literary name dropping made this book very hard to swallow. It also made me feel badly for friends of mine who are writers and who work so hard at their craft; it's a bad representation of them - at any age. As I read it, I kept wondering if the writer was going for a 'Lost Generation' thing for this generation. The problem is that that particular generation was actually risking something, had actually live through terrible times (they were fertile between two world wars). This just comes off as a slacker writer writing about his entitled life and a publish saying 'Cool - your generation will relate' and then published it. Glad I got it from the library...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Infada Spain

    ...perhaps it's closer to 2,5. Still, I'm not so sure, hard to say! ...perhaps it's closer to 2,5. Still, I'm not so sure, hard to say!

  17. 5 out of 5

    AK

    Can't assign a star rating to this one. Like the author and the narrator, I spent my mid-20s in Charlottesville and once you've lived in Charlottesville you're never more than one degree of connection away from any other person who's lived in Charlottesville. This is also what brought me to this novel, can't imagine at my advanced age I'd otherwise like to read about a bunch of privileged potheads and their manufactured dramas. This is a genre, right? The young bourgeoisie in their 'irresponsibl Can't assign a star rating to this one. Like the author and the narrator, I spent my mid-20s in Charlottesville and once you've lived in Charlottesville you're never more than one degree of connection away from any other person who's lived in Charlottesville. This is also what brought me to this novel, can't imagine at my advanced age I'd otherwise like to read about a bunch of privileged potheads and their manufactured dramas. This is a genre, right? The young bourgeoisie in their 'irresponsible with whisky' phase? Our narrator here, Peter, explains in one or two sentences that he has received some large lump sum of cash from his parents after he drops out of grad school at Yale. He moves to Charlottesville to live his long-term girlfriend Julia, who is in medical school. That means she is very busy. She also writes poems and manages to maintain an actual, productive writing practice in addition to being in school. He teaches a class at a local women's prison once or twice a week, mostly he's stoned or drinking or drinking while stoned. He also reads a lot. He meets a lady at a party, Leslie. Her lipstick is a little smeared so you know she's a wild card, probably amazing to sleep with. Leslie knows stuff about books too, and if she's not as driven as Julia, unlike Peter she actually does write and publish her writing. We see where it's going with these three, and that is indeed where it goes. Did I like this book? It was plotty and well-written enough that I knocked it out in two days. It works as a Charlottesville novel, which is what I was curious about. I recognized the establishments they patronize, and while the central Virginia stuff is broad (don't think Martin spent THAT much time in Charlottesville), he mostly hits his targets- parties held by daughters of rich families with horse farms, wannabe banjo players living out in the country, swimming holes, etc. (Who would I be in this book? Oh definitely one of the surly waitstaff that serves the narrator, trying to get through another shift of watching people who do not need to work get hammered and complain about their burdens.) So, I mean, it wasn't a bad read at all. But is at a good book? Adelle Waldman's The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. ruthlessly dissected the social dynamics of Brooklyn writers and gave us sharp, unsparing psychological portraits of all of the characters. Ben Lerner's two novels about writer dudes are overflowing with hyper-observed detail of character, setting and era, and bring us layers and layers of the narrator's consciousness and self-consciousness. Early Work just doesn't have anything like Waldman's or Lerner's power to evoke a milieu and present it for the reader to understand and critique. The narrator Peter works at a women's prison, teaching predominantly women of color who are more often than not victims of their circumstance. Does this ever cause our pothead, drunk driving, having edibles delivered from Colorado, living off the tens of thousands of dollars he was given for dropping out of school narrator to think for a moment about HIS circumstances? No, of course not. But worse, I don't think Martin thought about any of that stuff either. I'm not trying to say that this novel isn't 'woke' enough or whatever, I'm saying that the novelist is too blinkered for his novel to succeed at what he wants to do- portrait of the artist as a young drunk not actually making any art. I'll read his next novel though.

  18. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    On p211 a character comments, "It's your early work, man. It's allowed to be terrible. I promise I'll still like you even if it's garbage. Maybe I'll like you even more! Some chicks dig bad writers." So we learn that early work can refer to one's writing as well as one's character. Both become central in the novel. I came to Early Work through Ann Patchett. On one of those end-of-the-year panels where writers and critics discuss their favorite books of the year, Patchett cited this 1st novel by A On p211 a character comments, "It's your early work, man. It's allowed to be terrible. I promise I'll still like you even if it's garbage. Maybe I'll like you even more! Some chicks dig bad writers." So we learn that early work can refer to one's writing as well as one's character. Both become central in the novel. I came to Early Work through Ann Patchett. On one of those end-of-the-year panels where writers and critics discuss their favorite books of the year, Patchett cited this 1st novel by Andrew Martin. One of its qualities she brought up is that it's a dirty book. And it is. It treats sex with a frankness I don't usually come across these days since my hormones have grown up. The young characters in Early Work are aspiring writers who work at developing their craft with varying degrees of real work, ambition, and success, but they're also absorbed in their sex lives. They even sit around and discuss among themselves the merits or not of the poly life or multiple partners. Maybe their intake of alcohol and drugs inspires their attitudes. The characters are always high or drunk. In fact, they feel good about themselves when sober and bring it to he attention of everyone. As you might expect of aspiring writers they're well-read, and Martin has broadcast the seeds of literary references throughout his novel. They're sterile seeds, however, because he doesn't allow them growth beyond the quiet reference. So James Salter can be mentioned at a party as the writer of Downhill Racer or a character can spend time reading Blood Meridian, but they don't figure in the novel. Actually, the most likeable character is the dog Kiki. Some might argue that a writer who could get a dog's character and behavior down so perfectly must've gotten his hedonistic humans right, too. Maybe he did, but I didn't find them interesting. Their characters need to develop beyond their early work.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    4.5 stars, a soft 5. I guess I should give more books with mixed reviews on GR more of a chance. It's sort of surprising and yet not really that I enjoyed this as much as I did. It's not for everyone and I wouldn't recommend it to all of my friends, but it was for me. It is about a privileged white dude who just drinks and smokes the day away and makes ironic hipster comments and there's a lot of literary and music references for a certain type of person. I'm not really selling it well, I know-- 4.5 stars, a soft 5. I guess I should give more books with mixed reviews on GR more of a chance. It's sort of surprising and yet not really that I enjoyed this as much as I did. It's not for everyone and I wouldn't recommend it to all of my friends, but it was for me. It is about a privileged white dude who just drinks and smokes the day away and makes ironic hipster comments and there's a lot of literary and music references for a certain type of person. I'm not really selling it well, I know--but if you're the type who listened to a lot of Sonic Youth back in the day, have a general melancholy nature, are privileged enough to enjoy craft beer in cheap dive bars, enjoy modern literature ranging from DFW to Virginia Woolf, and try to like foreign cinema, you'll enjoy this book. I guess for me, the last month I haven't read anything that I've truly enjoyed, and for the last half of this year I've been pretty depressed and empty for reasons unrelated to books, so somehow reading this book was sort of like ~discovering myself all over again~ and falling in love again. I somehow just felt more alive when I read about Peter's aimless lifestyle and detached relationships. Does that even make sense? I dunno, but take it as it is. “When you first have sex with someone, especially when they’re otherwise committed, there’s both a performativity and a withholding, a contradictory set of impulses to demonstrate one’s value as a performer and to not commit fully to the emotional experience commensurate with great sex, lest your feelings prove an embarrassment. That night at Molly’s, Leslie and I got past compatibility, to that place where you surprise yourself with how badly you want to stay in that liminal pocket together, how desperate and unattractive you’re willing to be to experience uncompromised joy.”

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bud Smith

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Early Work is all about free will, even going so far as to spell it out in a snippet of dialogue late in the novel saying that God gave mankind the freedom of choice so it could be pulled into temptation and once down that path it could damn itself. I've been reading a lot of books with unlikeable characters, Early work just so happens to be about the kind of unlikeable characters I run into at dinner parties, people who cannot do much of anything other than wax on with each other in intellectua Early Work is all about free will, even going so far as to spell it out in a snippet of dialogue late in the novel saying that God gave mankind the freedom of choice so it could be pulled into temptation and once down that path it could damn itself. I've been reading a lot of books with unlikeable characters, Early work just so happens to be about the kind of unlikeable characters I run into at dinner parties, people who cannot do much of anything other than wax on with each other in intellectual warfare in regards to what good art is, the talk adding up to much of nothing. Andrew Martin does things with these characters both in action and in dialogue that takes a lot of blood and guts, because it's so easy to dismiss all of this. And he knows it. He says of his main character, Peter, 'I added to the growing list of things I was inadequate at or incapable of doing. I couldn't tie a knot more complicated than a shoelace. I couldn't roll a good joint, drive stick, or shuffle cards.' He goes on to say he can't whistle, dance, follow a map, handle guns or fireworks, and is even afraid to try interesting drugs. So what good is Peter? Not really much good at all. He's the rich boy strawman representing the millennial generation of people who want to do things but apparently aren't cowboy enough to go out there with an iron jaw and actually do them. In a familiar mode, Peter is a writer who just can't really write. He has nothing to write about and when he does, he just moves commas around. My experience with people younger than me is just the opposite, the younger writers who I know in the real world are often the people who I draw my inspiration from because they just jump off the bridge before learning how to fly or swim or whatever. Our other main character, Leslie, is the anthesis of Peter, she is larger than life, and like Peter, she has command of her freedom, but she is not using this freedom to explore her own destruction, rather it seems she is trying to gain experience and drink more of the juice of life. Peter just wants to drink himself to death and frequently seems to be planning or hovering around the plan for his own suicide. If you're bored and drowning in life, why not just drown yourself? Another cool thing about this book is that it spends some time in a literal prison, where our instructor, Pete, is trying to teach women inmates that composition is important, presumably because the creation of art is a freedom that is available to anyone and should be available to anyone. One of the most powerful and telling moments in the book is when one of these inmates points out to the instructor, 'You're gonna get somebody killed.' The show Orange is the New black is mentioned early on and I thought the flashbacks and fleshing out of the main character's lives (those not in jail) were reminiscent of the kind of storytelling that a show like Orange is the new black does fairly well. Here's these thirty something people who like to read and write and here are some past relationships they were in that will explain to you why they have their reservations about love life in the waning years of the Obama presidency. Everyone we meet, besides these inmates, defines their lives around the making of some kind of art, besides what they have to do for money, and in some cases they don't need money, they're just rich, or rich enough to live in Virginia for now. Peter is a writer, his girlfriend Julia is a poet, Leslie is writer, Kenny is in a band ... on and on and on. It's nice to hang out with these people and 'read books with them' and 'listen to Kendrick Lamar with them'. And it all feels like 'rich people shit'. Rich people shit in the way they talk and rich people shit in the way they treat each other, but even that is dynamic and powerful in this novel. The dialogue especially. It reminded me of the movie Juno. Like, this is not how actual people I would want to be around in the actual world talk, the mile a minute of references. There's a lot of calculated blather by these characters who except in some very poignant moments, actually say much of anything. They just shake around the stuff of life. And maybe this skating around the stuff of life, marks a perfect reflection of the casual nature they approach sex and love. Like, it's not important if you fucked someone else, it's not a deal breaker. These are not emotionally dead characters but the rules of their relationships could easily be considered emotionally dead by older, poorer Americans who remember a time when family values and honesty meant something. No, this is the time of ghosting, and pussy pics, and who cares if you are working hard ... nobody owes anybody anything and each person is its own island, high on a purple vaporizer, watching Steph Curry drain three pointers, thinking out loud, 'Our lives aren't worth dying for.' Kenny, the lone working man of the book, in his stoic wisdom says to our main man Peter, as a way of answering his multitude of numb dilemmas, "You've got that old northern defect ... can't drink away the foreknowledge of death." Most likely, Peter is just that way because he has read a lot of books by other white Americans. He is like Don Quixote, catching the disease of chivalry by reading all those chivalric romances and thinking he's someone else. If he was not as Leslie longs for 'one of the twenty great readers left in the country' then maybe Peter wouldn't even know he was going to die. Maybe he could have some fun and not be so worried about how fun it would be to fuck his life up just to see if it got more interesting. But Early Work lets these characters do whatever they want and it doesn't pretended that the old rules of engagement exist anymore. People are free to do whatever they want and nothing is a given, is attached to traditional means (two of the only characters in the novel who are of an older generation, are Peter's religious neighbor who seems leery and embarrassed of Peter spending time with any woman who is not he 'wife'. The other older character is Leslie's aunt who is also very religious and leery of Leslie spending time with any man who is not her 'husband'). I hope people keep writing novels like this, that they aren't supposed to write, about privileged but dissatisfied people. Hope they keep writing them until the earth melts into a goo that floats away into space, and the critics float away too. This is a novel about simple freedom, and it's a kind of wonder.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    At first Andrew Martin’s Early Work reduced me to an anti-millennial funk. These people and their incessant pop culture and literary references and their ironic hipster talk. Could they be more shallow and aimless? But after a while I recognized my reaction for what it was – pure generational envy – and got caught up in this milieu of clever, semi-self-aware people in which all the bartenders have MFAs and even the most incidental character -- a ticket-taker at a club -- has their own aesthetic At first Andrew Martin’s Early Work reduced me to an anti-millennial funk. These people and their incessant pop culture and literary references and their ironic hipster talk. Could they be more shallow and aimless? But after a while I recognized my reaction for what it was – pure generational envy – and got caught up in this milieu of clever, semi-self-aware people in which all the bartenders have MFAs and even the most incidental character -- a ticket-taker at a club -- has their own aesthetic and is willing to rise to the defense of it.If you are someone who doesn’t like big words or literary references that are outside the mainstream, if you prefer George RR Martin to Robert Musil, you will probably be hostile to this novel. I’ve had more than one student tell me they don’t like books that are pitched above their heads. But once I realized I was actually getting it, felt like I was on the inside, I began to move deeper into the story. Then the voice struck me as fresh and revealing, in the way Ann Beattie stories about the baby boomer generation were so specifically representative of their cultural moment that they were almost like an autopsy.Peter has fallen in love with Leslie who is, not very convincingly, Armenian, a tall woman who smells like vegetables and sex and who has the ruthlessness and detachment to become a really good writer. But at first, the reader does not know this. We think merely that she is one messed up, kinda slutty (but then who isn’t these days) woman. Peter lives with Julia, who is a poetry-writing medical student or a medicine-studying poet. (Keats trained as a doctor, right?) She is reliable and strong, a good person.Leslie and Peter make no real attempt to hide their affair, though Peter refuses at first to tell the truth about it and mostly refuses to make a move, other than meeting Leslie for sex every day in the place where he is supposed to be writing. A series of fraught and awkward moments leads to the inevitable outcome, which turns out to be surprisingly moving, probably because we know Peter is destined to regret what happens, and Peter knows it too. Along the way, we follow the progress of the characters in various acts of not thinking about what they’re doing while they meantime try to write about it. But in the end, the novel does make a surprising statement of what it is to come into one’s own as a writer – or at least, what it might mean for Andrew Martin.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Julie F

    the fact that this terrible book was published in the first place is testament to the overall corruption of the corporate publishing industry and how privileged, mediocre white male writers are disproportionally and undeservingly praised. anyone who is not an upper class/upper middle class college educated white person will not be able to relate to this book or appreciate it at all. its about a bored, egocentric, misogynistic white MFA grad/English PhD dropout who cheats on his long term girlfri the fact that this terrible book was published in the first place is testament to the overall corruption of the corporate publishing industry and how privileged, mediocre white male writers are disproportionally and undeservingly praised. anyone who is not an upper class/upper middle class college educated white person will not be able to relate to this book or appreciate it at all. its about a bored, egocentric, misogynistic white MFA grad/English PhD dropout who cheats on his long term girlfriend. In other words: who cares? It’s ignorant, racist, self-centered and quite honestly a piece of trash.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Fia

    Pretty good. Despite most of the characters being extremely unlikable, I felt like they were actually quite accurate portrayals of privileged people in their twenties and their disfunctional relationships with their partners and also with friends. "Geniunely shallow" was a phrase I saw on another review, agree with that. Pretty good. Despite most of the characters being extremely unlikable, I felt like they were actually quite accurate portrayals of privileged people in their twenties and their disfunctional relationships with their partners and also with friends. "Geniunely shallow" was a phrase I saw on another review, agree with that.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Don

    1.5 stars but generously rounding up. I wouldn't have finished this novel, except for it being relatively short, and I was listening to it at triple speed while riding my bike. I don't mind an unsavory protagonist, as long as the novel has something to say, but this is just a flaneur who decides to cheat on his gf for no other reason than ennui. I'm not a moralist, and the cheating's not the issue, the problem is this is the whole story, he doesn't have any feelings about his transgressions, make 1.5 stars but generously rounding up. I wouldn't have finished this novel, except for it being relatively short, and I was listening to it at triple speed while riding my bike. I don't mind an unsavory protagonist, as long as the novel has something to say, but this is just a flaneur who decides to cheat on his gf for no other reason than ennui. I'm not a moralist, and the cheating's not the issue, the problem is this is the whole story, he doesn't have any feelings about his transgressions, makes no apologies or excuses, and doesn't worry about his future or past. All we get is his over drinking, pot smoking, bad descriptions of sex and inability to write, however he can literary namedrop. Oh so much literary name dropping: Yeats, Atwood, Roth, Delillo, Fitzgerald, Mailer, etc. etc... And it's not even cleverly interspersed, it's just he was reading this novel or picked up that novel from the floor or she mentioned this author at the end of an email. Martin's certainly not the only author to make this transgression, cause it's a trend of novels with literary aspirations to namedrop other authors that they hope they are in the vein of, but it's extra insulting when this novel is so bad. This is a very sad literary-bro novel, sheathed in white privilege, with no objectivity, and worse of all nothing to say. SKIP, better yet, RUN from this novel.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Flynn

    For some reason lately I've been reading newish books -- such as Come With Me and Neon in Daylight-- that despite being acclaimed by many critics left me cold, even dispirited about the whole prospect and utility of writing fiction. I was fully expecting Early Work to be the third in this series, at which point I could turn with relief to reading something unheralded that I was more likely to enjoy or profit from. So I surprised myself by enjoying Early Work very much. It helps that it's funny, For some reason lately I've been reading newish books -- such as Come With Me and Neon in Daylight-- that despite being acclaimed by many critics left me cold, even dispirited about the whole prospect and utility of writing fiction. I was fully expecting Early Work to be the third in this series, at which point I could turn with relief to reading something unheralded that I was more likely to enjoy or profit from. So I surprised myself by enjoying Early Work very much. It helps that it's funny, though humor is a very personal thing and not every reader will find this book as droll as I did. The book's characters are mostly feckless, selfish and badly behaved. They sleep around, squander their opportunities and never really get their comeuppance. But it's an object lesson in how characters can be compelling and interesting without being at all likeable. In some way I can't explain very well, these unlikeable characters are wrestling with the problem of how to be a person in the world, and the struggle feels true and painful despite the banality of the action. Andrew Martin's writing is precise and satisfying without being look-at-me showy. Often I feel that novelists sort of +gesture at+ things instead of honestly exploring then, or at the other extreme, work too hard to hammer home their Meaningful Message. Early Work escapes both these traps. It made me feel hopeful about writing again.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

    I liked the author photo, and I hoped to like the protagonist, but I didn't. I didn't even feel like I got to know or care about any of the characters. Would have liked to know Julia; she seemed like the only relateable/non-bad character. I don't tend to enjoy these depress-y morally empty books where the characters just loll around drunk and stoned. Also the parts about the dog; "Why I am I reading this sentence about the dog running over or barking or doing whatever?" A disappointment. I liked the author photo, and I hoped to like the protagonist, but I didn't. I didn't even feel like I got to know or care about any of the characters. Would have liked to know Julia; she seemed like the only relateable/non-bad character. I don't tend to enjoy these depress-y morally empty books where the characters just loll around drunk and stoned. Also the parts about the dog; "Why I am I reading this sentence about the dog running over or barking or doing whatever?" A disappointment.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    I don’t usually like it when young writers write about young writers but Martin’s writing is so funny and observant that he could write about anything and I’d be delighted. I’m not supposed to be reading for pleasure at the moment and yet I found myself picking this up at every opportunity. Loved it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    bmo211

    Not a single likeable character, and that includes the dog.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Haroun

    imagine lena dunham's girls but less interesting and in virginia (its just as white though) imagine lena dunham's girls but less interesting and in virginia (its just as white though)

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    I didn't realize it until maybe halfway through, but the characters that fill this novel--sharp witted, pseudo-intellectuals, constantly referencing books they probably haven't read--could just as easily populate a Sally Rooney novel. In a lot of ways, Early Work feels like "Sally Rooney for boys" in the way it captures a bunch of disaffected Millennials who talk about politics and the state of literature, partake in casual sex, smoke a lot of weed, all told in a similar manner to the celebrated I didn't realize it until maybe halfway through, but the characters that fill this novel--sharp witted, pseudo-intellectuals, constantly referencing books they probably haven't read--could just as easily populate a Sally Rooney novel. In a lot of ways, Early Work feels like "Sally Rooney for boys" in the way it captures a bunch of disaffected Millennials who talk about politics and the state of literature, partake in casual sex, smoke a lot of weed, all told in a similar manner to the celebrated Irish wunderkind. The only major difference is that Early Work is narrated by a genuine asshat named Peter. Nearly all the characters in this novel are insufferable, but Martin has this ability to pump out sentence after sentence that is often simultaneously eye-roll inducing, incredibly specific, and humorous. Take this exchange for example: "You know what's a bad place? Syria." "Have you heard about Texas?" Gil said "What happened?" "That's it. Texas. What a shithole." "Hey, that's where what's-her-name lives," Molly said. "Show some respect." "Leslie?" I said. "No, the abortion lady," Molly said. "I'd vote for her. For whatever." (For what it's worth, I took this to be a reference to Wendy Davis, who famously filibustered against a restrictive abortion measure in Texas several years ago.) This encapsulates the type of dialogue and interactions that populate the book. Incredibly specific and "ironic" uses of American pop culture and politics from the past five years. The actual plot? Well, it's about a lazy, irresponsible wannabe hipster writer who cheats on his girlfriend with the new Cool Girl/manic pixie dream girl in town. I know you'll be shocked to learn that chaos ensues. But we've seen this story before, right? We have, and the frustrating thing to admit about Early Work is that Andrew Martin has a lot of talent. I could not put the book down--I read it in about three sittings over the course of two days. There's a part of my brain that loves reading about bad people making bad choices and watching their world burn, and I loved Early Work for that. This short novel is sure to frustrate and annoy a lot of readers, and it definitely tried my patience, but there's a sad truth to this book that is explored here about the ways in which misguided people navigate through the post-college world that hooked its way into me. 3.5/5

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