February 2008

Elizabeth Bachner

fiction

The Delivery Man by Joe McGinniss, Jr.

“You are not loved by anyone,” reads an anonymous note that Chase writes to Michele when they’re teenagers, as part of the Insult Game, a game of chicken to see at what point a line is crossed, to see when someone gets hurt so much he has to quit, “Not your drunk mother who sent you here to Vegas… or by anyone who thinks they know you and calls you a friend or by Bailey who thinks you give lousy head (but at least you swallow) or by Carly who thinks you’re pathetic and doesn’t have the heart to tell you to just GO AWAY or by Chase who thinks you’re a slut and a bad influence on his sister. No matter how many hours you spend at Chase and Carly’s house asking their mother if there’s anything else she wants done -- doing anything that will keep you near them in their home with their lawn and their view and their pool and trying desperately to BE like them -- it will NEVER happen. That’s the trick here that you don’t see. The whole thing is set up to keep you wanting what you can’t have and what you can’t become until it drives you away or makes you kill yourself. You’re lucky you’re beautiful, Michele, because without that you’d be nothing. You wouldn’t exist.”

Fast-forward ten years. Chase and Bailey and Michele are trapping themselves in Las Vegas, knotted together by inertia and the aftermath of a tragedy. Michele, who emigrated from El Salvador as a child, is a prostitute with a stack of unopened textbooks from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Bailey is her pimp. Chase has a beautiful girlfriend in another state who’s finishing her MBA. He transferred out of NYU and abandoned a promising art career. He teaches high school but often gets to work late or doesn’t show up at all. He lives in a hotel room, immobilizing himself, and has strange excuses not to meet up with his girlfriend, not to work, not to leave. He works as Michele’s “delivery man,” driving her to appointments, waiting for her, picking her up.

“Do you care what happens to me?” asks Michele, and Chase says, “It already happened to you.”

Joe McGinniss, Jr. is the son of a famous writer, but was raised mostly by his divorced mother, a nurse. He writes exactly like Bret Easton Ellis -- the same bleak, searing denouements at the end of each vignette, the same shell-shocked, lost male narrator and tragically ruined pretty girls, the same absent parents and downward spirals and scenes of porn and drugs and torture -- but his focus is on the “MySpace Generation,” a multicultural mass of celluloid-addled, vapid, amoral sociopaths like in Larry Clark’s Bully and Kids.

The Delivery Man is a good, dark debut. It pulls you inside the emptiness of the characters’ world, where there’s no sense of philosophy or beauty or hope and no possibility of escape or redemption. Even characters outside of the scene, like Chase’s girlfriend Julia, aspire to nothing more than having a nice income, and being able to afford things. The moral of this story, as told by McGinniss or Bret Easton Ellis or Larry Clark or Nick McDonell in Twelve, is that we are all lost, and that we stab at our numbness with mechanical sex and empty violence and prescription drugs. McGinniss has not written a fresh or original work -- in fact, as I read it I started hatching conspiracies that The Delivery Man actually is a Bret Easton Ellis novel -- but it’s a satisfying read within the neo-Less Than Zero genre. McGinniss, unlike other recent Ellis wannabes and protégés, is in his late thirties, but he manages to capture contemporary teen culture and post-collegiate malaise with authenticity. The Delivery Man also captures the strange, mid-desert transitional feeling of Las Vegas.

Chase is a classic, passive, numb, wounded protagonist -- not able to be fully human -- entirely like Less Than Zero’s Clay Easton. One strange difference between The Delivery Man and its Brat Pack blueprint is that the narrators in Ellis’s work are hurt, dulled, punished by their privilege, while these Gen Y versions are similarly adrift without wealth. They covet the icons of the upper classes from the outside, or, like Michele, scramble to get them some other way, by turning tricks, say, or sending younger girls out to turn tricks. Marty Beckerman’s novels Death to All Cheerleaders and Generation S.L.U.T. capture the damaged, soulless Gen Y obsession with brand names, anonymous exploitation and video games in a startlingly innovative voice, but even though they’re funny, reading them is uncomfortable, damning and a bit sickening. There’s something inexplicably soothing about Bret Easton Ellis’s brand of ennui, his stark flashbacks to poolside emotional brutality, his American hopelessness, and The Delivery Man, even if it wasn’t really written by Ellis, gets it all just right.

The Delivery Man by Joe McGinniss, Jr.
Black Cat
ISBN: 0802170420
278 Pages