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Next    by James Hynes order for
by James Hynes
Order:  USA  Can
Reagan Arthur, 2010 (2010)
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Next is the story of eight hours in the life of Kevin Quinn, a not especially likeable but still apparently attractive man in his early fifties. He has flown to Austin, Texas from Ann Arbor, Michigan for a job interview, and plans to return home the same day. His cell phone has been left behind since he doesn't want his girlfriend Stella (who is also his tenant and live-in lover) to know about the interview. He's unhappy with his job and his life and he wants to break up with Stella, but doesn't seem to know how to get her out of his house and his life without leaving himself. The book is broken up into three parts, which is significant because each shows a different side of Kevin, and as it progresses we gradually begin to like him more as we learn more about him. The first part shows him as so shallow and worthless that it was difficult for me to keep reading, but everything changed at the end of that section. The second and third parts are interesting and intense and the ending is heart-stoppingly exciting.

We meet Kevin as he sits on the airplane, pointlessly worrying about terrorists and wondering if he will get to Austin alive. Next to him on the plane is an attractive young woman (reading The Joy Luck Club), with whom he chats briefly. He finds her attractive. She reminds him of a girlfriend from many years before when he was a college student, and he dubs her Joy Luck. She becomes significant later when he happens to spot her while waiting for his job interview. He takes off following her on foot in the Texas heat, and from this point until the end of the first section, becomes a pathetic, middle-aged man, attracted to a woman thirty-five years younger who, one is sure, would reject him out of hand if she even noticed him. He manages to follow her without her becoming aware of it, probably because she is as wrapped up in her own thoughts as he is in his. While Kevin struggles to keep up with her, he reminisces about his past and worries about his present. His memories and his musings include extensive sexual elements, leading this reader to label him an overgrown adolescent.

Since the end of this section is the beginning of the interesting part of the book, it would be unfair to a potential reader to describe the next events further, except to say that Kevin learns a lot about himself during the eight hours of the story, just as we learn about Kevin. We can laugh at - and with - Kevin at times, and the humor tends to be melancholy more often than not. After all the shallowness, we finally see Kevin's deeper side and find a much nicer man than we thought was there. I ended up liking the book much more than I ever would have expected after slogging through the first section. It left me with admiration for a writer who could accomplish the transformation of a character and a story in such a profound way.

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