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#14 – Indecision

May 31, 2007

peel me off this velcro seat and get me moving, i sure as hell can’t do it by myselfDwight Wilmerding, the hero of Benjamin Kunkel’s debut novel Indecision, is a guy in his mid-twenties, with a Philosophy degree from Eureka Valley College, an unsatisfying customer service job, and no idea what he’s doing with his life. After reading and loving Indecision, it’s become embarrassingly clear to me that I’m one hundred percent susceptible to any book with such a narrator – A White Merc With Fins, Choke, and especially Apathy and Other Small Victories are a few of my favourite books. While I applied to law school in part to avoid this state, these fictional characters always choose more innovative ways to shake up their routine: a bank robbery in A White Merc, nightly near-death experiences in Choke, and salt shaker stealing and criminal indifference in Apathy. As for Indecision, in a thoroughly modern approach, Dwight opts for self-medication.

See, like the title says, Dwight finds it impossible to make decisions: he flips an I Ching coin whenever he has to make a choice, then decides after it’s too late what he had actually wanted. He also suggests that “Are you awake?” is a great question because “just to be asked it was to know the answer”. Luckily for him, Dwight lives in 2002, and his pharmacist roommate has some great news: It turns out that chronic indecision is actually a disease! He’s diagnosed with having severe abulia, which like so many diseases these days seems to have been discovered at the same exact time as the cure. Thus does Dwight start taking Abulinix, an experimental drug which promises to let him make decisions effortlessly.

In a narrative choice which is either completely heavy-handed or completely inspired, the Abulinix has about a two week period before it starts to take effect, so Dwight spends half of Indecision literally putting off making any decisions “until the drug kicks in”, which he’s sure will give him the clarity and foresight he’s been missing his whole adult life. (Okay, wait, I think it’s inspired. What a brilliant way to describe the general lifestyle of this whole generation.) As circumstance would have it, Dwight finds himself in the middle of the Ecuadorian jungle with a complete stranger when the drug finally starts to work, and things snowball from there.

This is Benjamin Kunkel’s first book, but it’s the kind of intimidatingly good debut that makes you feel like an idiot for saying anything encouraging – he’s already so frigging good it’s like he doesn’t even need it. He writes like a post-modern Vonnegut, with brilliant one-liners scattered throughout such as “There is no worse preparation for adulthood than having been a child,” or “I’ve known people who’ve known things about the Middle East – and it was never any good.” As the story begins in mid-2002 New York City, 9/11 obviously tinges the book, and it’s handled exceptionally well: Dwight’s experience on the morning of, while not uniquely or individually tragic, is heartbreaking in a way that it would be unfair to discuss here.

Finally, if there’s ever been an argument for not judging a book by its cover, this is it. Forget that puke-green thumbnail up there and go read Indecision; if you share my monomaniacal taste then I can personally guarantee you’ll like it.

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