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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, August 31st, 2005


 

Indecision

by Benjamin Kunkel

A Pfun Read

A review by Anna Godbersen

Dwight B. Wilmerding, the charmingly feckless, painfully self-aware voice of Benjamin Kunkel's debut novel, has that old Hamlet problem so common to those choice-addled souls in their mid/late twenties: What to do with one's life? But I should be more specific -- his problem is common to those twentysomethings of the first world, with their vast educations and multitude of pharmaceutical options. For Dwight has ascended from Northeastern WASPishness (Episcopal Church, prep school, scotch, golf, alienation) to the lazy sarcasm of entry-level professional Manhattan. He is so in his twenties, in fact, that he not only works in a cubicle (Pfizer), but sleeps in one, too (the rent on Chambers Street much reduced by the incompleteness of the walls). To be or not to be, to work at Pfizer or decamp for the woods of Vermont. As Alice, his biting, anthropologist sister, points out, Dwight lives, "in a consumer society in which tiny portions of desire are constantly being solicited from you and frittered away so that you can never save up enough passion to spend on any one thing."

Dwight's privileged paralysis (or, as it is diagnosed by his med-student roommate, his abulia, the impairment or loss of one's ability to make decisions) is cured by a series of events, each wilder than the last. First, he is introduced to abulinix, a not yet on the market abulia drug, then he is fired from Pfizer ("Pfired! So I'm pfucked!"), after which he flies to Ecuador, hooks up with a Belgian/Argentinian do-gooder, hikes into the jungle, takes a hallucinogen, and begins to see the world in a very different way. Now, this all may sound like it was cooked up in some elite, woodsy institution, topped off with a hot topic (pharmaceuticals) for gravity's sake, and some sex and drugs for fun. But Kunkel does write lovely, smartly observed sentences ("Now the tires struck the runway with a little squeal of swallowed hurt"). And, in the end, Indecision is not your father's novel of youthful malaise; Kunkel wants to do more than document the days and nights of the over-privileged and underpaid. He wants to explore the cause and effect of this malaise and, ultimately, its morality. Happily, Indecision, Dwight's "memoir" of his path from Gawker-esque cubicle denizen to passionate idealist, manages to be astonishingly convincing and entertaining at once.


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