Recommended: Next, by James Hynes
I very much enjoyed James Hynes’s new novel Next, partly because the narrative voice reminded me of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom novels. This is sometimes a good thing, not always, but in this case of this novel, yes, it is: [p. 211] Stella’s idea of high culture is one of those gaudy, fascistic shows in which some formerly charming folk genre — Irish step-dancing or Japanese drummers or Chinese acrobats — is blown all out of proportion into the sort of spectacle that would have fit right in at the Nuremburg rallies. Or a show that takes something vaguely “street” or mildly avant-garde — hip-hop dancers banging trash-can lids, men painted blue whacking each other with plastic tubing — and turns it into a Vegas spectacle. Don’t even get him started about Cirque du Soleil. She dragged him all the way to Chicago on his fiftieth birthday — and, to be fair, paid for the whole trip — to surprise him with a bewildering, assaultive show full of faux mysticism and pointless virtuosity. When she asked him if didn’t just love it, he stifled his gut response: that this was what entertainment would have been like if the Soviet Union had won the Cold War, fantastically fit but facelessly interchangeable performers in revealing outfits doing spectacular but meaningless stunts for a mindlessly bedazzled audience. Even the show’s title wasn’t really a word, he was convinced — vaguely Italian- or French-sounding, but signifying nothing, in the manner of some expensively concocted corporate brand name.
“It was great” is what he actually said …