The Believer Book Award

The Sixth Annual—Hereby Presented To

Next by James Hynes

At first glance, a novel about a middle-aged man who disembarks from an airplane in Austin, Texas, and kills a few spare hours before a job interview by stealthily tracking a hot (and much younger) woman to coffee shops and organic groceries hardly seems the stuff of high drama. But do not underestimate the technical chops of James Hynes, nor the size of his literary quarry. Next quickly hairpins inward, taking stock of both the personal and the cultural pasts of its protagonist, Kevin Quinn, and funneling him inexorably forward, into the now, with poignantly tragic results. At times it feels like nothing less than a state-of-the-art Mrs. Dalloway, from which the novel takes one of its epigraphs: “She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.”

Next begins with a horny older guy musing about his younger horny-guy past, and intensifies its backward-glancing scrutiny as Kevin loses the younger girl, is knocked down by a dog and cuts his knee, is mended and fed tacos by a depressed and defensive Latina physician, is dropped off at a mall to buy new pants, is delivered by taxi, finally, to his job interview, just as radio news of something bad in Minnesota penetrates (barely) his backseat solipsism. What happens “next” is the tragic payoff of Hynes’s investigation: even the most sentimentally recalled episodes from the past exert explosive pressure on our current lives.

Kevin is a flaneur of the mind, though less a gentleman of leisure than the possible victim of twenty-first-century trans-industry obsolescence putting his internal affairs in order before the biggest party of his life. An often witty eulogy for sex, youth, Sigourney Weaver’s Alien-era biceps, and American notions of financial and physical security, Next is a work of intense nostalgia that never fails to comment upon the present as well as—in its final pages of split-second daring, and optimism, and heartbreak—the future.

—The Editors

an excerpt from Next

These days, where he buys his coffee depends on which way he walks to work. Say he comes up behind the Union and along Maynard under University Towers and through the Arcade, in which case he stops at Expresso Royale and carries his cardboard cup steaming along State Street. That’s his route on cloudy days. When it’s sunny, though, he walks all the way up Fifth to Liberty, then straight up Liberty into the rising sun, because one of his favorite sights in the world is the view up Liberty on a brisk autumn morning or on a mild spring one, under a scrubbed blue midwestern sky, with the Michigan Theater’s black marquee soaking up the slanting light and Burton Tower printed against the sky at the end of the street, limned in astringent northern light. Here, at least in Kevin’s youth, was once the epicenter of funky retail Ann Arbor, the heart of elvendom on earth. Within two minutes walk of each other were three world-class record stores: Liberty Music, where a middle-aged clerk in a tie escorted you to a booth so you could listen to six different recordings of Shostakovich’s Fifth; hip Big Star, where if you didn’t know what you wanted, you were in the wrong place; and Discount Records, where Iggy Pop once worked. And five bookstores: overlit Follett’s, fussy Charing Cross, overstuffed David’s, bohemian Centicore, and the original, independent, prelapsarian Borders, whose clerks had to pass a book test to get the job and afterward strutted the carpeted aisles as arrogant as Jesuits. “Romance novels? We don’t sell romance novels. Why don’t you try Walden’s? At the mall.”

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