This one’s a gusher, so you might want to keep in mind, as you read, that I’m totally the target audience/demographic for Louie Cronin’s debut novel. Her book is set in Boston, where I lived for ten years. The locales and characters throughout Everyone Loves You Back are immediately recognizable, whether Cronin is referring to specific spots (like the pretentious restaurant with the thick wood door) or, alternately, dealing in archetypes (like Riff, the jazz gormandizer who walks around this book in a permanent cloud of pot smoke).
Main character Bob Boland is such an archetype: pushing fifty, entrenched in a radio production job he doesn’t think he deserves, living in an inherited house in a Cambridge neighborhood well beyond his means, opinionated to the point of being off-putting. At the start of this novel, Boland is sleeping through daylight, working as a nighttime producer for a freeform jazz radio show. He uses his spare time to peck at a Carducci-ish treatise on the State Of Jazz, though he doesn’t have the confidence to show it around.
One set of neighbors wants him to remove or prune a toxic tree in his yard; another wants access to a foot of his property. But rather than making these decisions–rather than making any decisions – Bob Boland repeatedly says he’ll “think about it” and reacts to decisions made by others, rather than proactively making his own. It’s in this narration that Louie Cronin shines. Boland’s repeated decisions to not decide are dealt by Cronin with a light, deft touch–she might easily have bludgeoned readers with Boland’s noncommittal nature. She doesn’t, though. It’s tough to write a character whose natural state is obliviousness, yet Cronin does so here, describing Boland’s thought process well enough to reveal the interior life which leads to his perpetual lack of commitment.
Her in-depth but detached narration allows readers first amusement and then frustration at Boland’s chain of non-decisions, giving readers the means to identify both with him and with the cast of characters that populates the book. Boland’s love interest Leonie bears the brunt of his indecision, and is a well-written, sympathetic character. She comes into the scene when a condo developer threatens to remove an ancient neighborhood tree. She’s ready to have kids, says so, and deals with Boland’s indecision–but only to a point. Boland, of course, can’t see how his inactions and reactions impact Leonie, but readers can tell change is coming, adding to both sympathies and frustrations.
Living in Boston isn’t a requirement to enjoy this fantastic debut novel. Characters are recognizable and well-developed, and Cronin (whose name readers might recognize from the end credits of NPR’s Car Talk – she’s ‘the barbarian’ the hosts mention) boasts a pitch-perfect, wry comedic delivery throughout. I know people who are stuck inside their own heads, and the people who deal with those people. You probably do, too–making this one recommended for you.
Everyone Loves You Back
by Louie Cronin
Gorsky Press; 256 p.