Synopses & Reviews
With the millennium fast approaching, twenty-eight-year-old Harvard-educated Billy Schine finds himself without prospects, a balled-up bit of litter riding the boom of New York in the nineties. His classmates make millions on Wall Street and the Internet while Billy makes do with a series of temp jobs. He has a girlfriend, Sally Hu, but they're more of a couple by romantic default, sex the only commodity they're willing to trade in. Time flows by without consequence until one day Billy receives a letter from Ragnar & Sons, a collection agency seeking some satisfaction on three years of unpaid student loans. Death is mentioned as an alternative to payment. Now every passerby is a potential hitman, and Billy has to flee. But where? Not home to his unwell parents. Providence delivers Hargrove Anderson Medical, a pharmaceutical company looking for perfectly healthy "normals" to participate in Phase I studies of their latest experimental drugs. Billy signs up for a fourteen-day trial of Allevatrox, a new atypical antipsychotic for the treatment of schizophrenia.
At first, little happens in the research center, the boredom punctuated only by twice-daily appointments with pills and needles. Within the group, battle stories are told from the healing fields of guinea pig, and Billy is pleased. He's rested and well-fed and possibly in love with the lone female in the study. Then the messy side effects hit, and everything changes. The normal world is turned upside-down, the real and unreal merging until spilled blood becomes the only proof of a beating heart.
Through the sharp-eyed, self-doubting Billy Schine, David Gilbert exposes the crisis of the contemporary human condition: how to connect? As funny as it is profound, The Normals is a tour de force from a writer of astonishing intelligence and imagination.
"Billy Schine is a wanted man, in the worst possible way. A glum, rudderless 28-year-old Harvard grad, he has defaulted on his student loan, and the brutish collection agency that has taken over his debt is not playing around. To escape, Billy quits his temp job and hightails it out of Manhattan to be a guinea pig in an experimental drug trial. As the title of Gilbert's witty first novel suggests, Billy is part of a healthy control group used to ferret out the possible side effects of an anti-psychotic. Gilbert, author of the short story collection Remote Feed, surrounds Billy with an oddball cast of normals, including an aspiring actor who practices his craft by faking symptoms and an oversexed femme fatale on a very self-involved quest. But the book's most compelling action is interior, as Billy grapples with his place in life and tries to come to terms with his parents' kamikaze love for each other. Fast-paced and winningly insouciant if sometimes self-consciously showy, this is a fine debut that uses humor to tackle some very serious issues, including questions of medical ethics, the search for grace and the meaning of love. Agent, Bill Clegg at Burnes & Clegg. 5-city author tour. (Oct.) Forecast: Gilbert writes in the vein of Vonnegut, Heller and Kesey, updated for the 21st century there's cult sales potential here, helped along by the great title. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The perfect allegory for the times-our Catch-22, our Generation X-a masterpiece of cultural riffing. The first great comic novel of the century." Andrew Sean Greer
"Gilbert masterfully depicts the casualties of our pill-popping, T.V.-numbed age. The Normals is a daring and wildly funny first novel." Akhil Sharma
"Relentlessly intelligent...a very good read, and an experience you'll want to stretch out as long as you can." Douglas Coupland
"Fast-paced...Gilbert writes in the vein of Vonnegut, Heller and Kesey, updated for the 21st century." Publishers Weekly
"What makes this first novel memorable is its exploration of the contradictory desire both to escape the world and to be plunged back into it." New Yorker
"Wild and woolly...a trenchant study of human suggestibility, tricked out with a wry subplot about the media hoopla surrounding a brain-tumor victim whose latest MRI bears a striking resemblance to the Shroud of Turin." Seattle Times
"T.C. Boyle meets Alice Sebold with a bit of Paul Theroux...Gilbert uses sharp humor to tackle serious issues such as the search for self, love, and medical ethos. This is a novel that resonates long after you turn the last page." Rocky Mountain News
"[A] must buy...[an] intelligent and funny dissection of our ADD-addled culture." Maxim (four stars)
"A writer of loopy elegance...[Gilbert] is able to refract our world back to us in ways that words on the page can best convey." Boston Globe
In this critically acclaimed comic masterpiece, David Gilbert tells the story of Billy Schine, a young man who innocently enrolls in a 14-day human drug testing study and finds his normal world turned upside-down. Like a One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
for the postmodern age, The Normals
is a tour de force from a writer of astonishing intelligence and imagination.
About the Author
David Gilbert is the author of the short story collection Remote Feed. His stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Harper's, GQ, and Bomb. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.