The Unknowns, by Gabriel Roth, Picador, RRP£14.99, 209 pages
Roth’s excellent debut novel follows Eric Muller, computer programmer and dotcom millionaire, who has recently sold his data-aggregating website (“Demographic of One”). It’s San Francisco, 2002, and although Eric is now rich, he is still lonely.
Roth, a part-time software developer, takes us into the normally hidden world of code. Here’s Eric, rewriting old script: “Hundreds of new features had been added by dozens of successive programmers, like a medieval cathedral built by five generations of stonemasons.”
The book follows Eric’s relationship with Maya, who has recently acknowledged a repressed past through RMT (“recovered memory therapy”). For Eric, a gatherer of data, Maya’s repression is a scab of uncertainty to be picked at. As Eric struggles to understand “the unknowns” of the title, Roth raises interesting questions about what belongs where in the private and public domains of his characters’ personal lives.
Review by Joseph Charlton
The Drive, by Tyler Keevil, Myriad, RRP£8.99, 320 pages
After learning of his girlfriend’s infidelity, Trevor decides to go travelling to beat the blues. Plotting a route from his home town Toronto to San Francisco, via Oregon and the Nevada desert, he sets out in a battered Dodge Neon, hoping to “find himself”. Along the way he survives scrapes with mescal-swilling bikers and cannibalistic chefs, gets high on peyote and inadvertently shoots a bald eagle.
Canadian author Keevil’s raucous second novel – his debut was the spiky, Vancouver-set Fireball – wants to have it both ways: to satirise the cliché of the great American road trip and, at the same time, to revel in its romance. The prose is burdened with ill-assorted allusions, from Hunter S Thompson to Homer (the desert looks like a “wine-dark sea”), and Trevor’s lovelorn moping often has you sympathising with his errant squeeze. Nevertheless, the narrative is packed with so many quirky diversions and oddballs that, by the end, you’re happy to have joined him for the ride.
Review by David Evans