Young Men on Fire
by Howard Hunt
Here's One Worth Burning
A review by Adrienne Miller
How to deal with a not-good second novel that's clearly beneath the talents of its capable young author? Young Men on Fire starts off with a bang: On September 7, 2001, a heart surgeon is en route from Australia to New York. His awful younger brother Martin, a — I almost hesitate to use this word — "journalist," lives in New York, and he and Jim need to talk about their father, who's dying in Florida. The book's first chapter is funny enough and brash enough to make the reader think, Well, I suppose I maybe I can stomach Bright Lights, Big City: the millennial update (which seems to be what Young Men on Fire is striving for). Alas, the rest of Howard Hunt's momentously callow novel really did cause me to pine for that special McInerneyesque nuance, that artful interest in character. In New York, the terrible brothers pal around with two big shots, C.C. Baxter and the appropriately named Big Guy, and indulge in the drinking of drinks, the taking of drugs, the screwing of "bunnies," and, most fearsomely, the dropping of a stroke-inducing number of pop-culture references, such as, "'Last year, there were three enormous billboards around town promoting this cheesy Deep Space Nine knockoff sci-fi series....'" I should add that I can't figure out which character speaks this dialogue. It probably doesn't matter. As I read, I kept thinking of a line from a Martin Amis essay about Brian DePalma: "Scarface might as well have been called Shitface for all the subtlety he applied to the monotonous turpitude of Tony Montana." At its worst, Young Men on Fire is a book that believes what it reads in Maxim. Which is a shame, because its author is better than that.
Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.
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