Bennett Callaghan's Reviews > Q

Q by Evan Mandery
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's review
Apr 16, 12

In Q, Mandery writes with equal measures of wit, irony, and poignancy--all tinged with a certain existential angst and philosophical reflection--that is characteristic of his other novels
as well (see: First Contact or It's Later than You Think and Dreaming
of Gwen Stefani). In my opinion, this is Mandery's best work although
I highly enjoyed his other novels as well. If you have read the other
reviews, you already know what it is about, so I won't detail the plot
here. I will say, however, that Q was a book I could hardly put down;
I wanted to read it all in one sitting, and, trust me, I tried. As
others have mentioned, the narrator is "malleable," but this does not
keep him from having a very real and unique personality, one that
enlightens and entertains throughout the book (I enjoyed Q almost as
much for its educational value as I did for it's entertainment
value--who knew Freud studied eel testes?). Furthermore, this
malleability serves a point: who among us is not just as "malleable?"
As we go about our lives and worry about our future, who is not
subject to every whim of his "future self?" Before you realize it,
about seven different versions of yourself have lived and you have
not. I thought the essential critique of this book--one that a couple
of other reviewers have picked up on as well--was an insightful one.
The book questions the assumption that were we all to choose the
"right" path in life and follow it through, we would all be happy.
Mandery questions this assumption with optimistic existentialism and
ties it closely to another theme in the book: the illusion of
progress. I liked that, all throughout, Mandery used humor and irony
to illuminate these themes without "hitting us over the head" with
them (for example, the narrator, who is constantly visited by future
versions of himself who try to change his future, is a writer of
counter-historical fiction, which contemplates how things would be
different were things in the past to change).

That being said, from my survey of other reviews, I noticed some
recurring complaints that I think are unfounded. A few people seemed
to have been irked by the books-within-books (these are excerpted
portions of the writing the fiction-writing narrator produces
throughout the storyline). Personally, I loved them. First of all,
they are very funny. I mean, seriously, the line "He would publish the
testes" is reason enough to write them. And contrary to the thoughts
of I-70--and some human reviewers--I thought they were well written
and entertaining, and could stand as pieces of fiction on their own.
The fact that one of them is a story-within-a-book that contains a
story within it and talks about a book, is absurdly funny in itself.
However, as others have failed to acknowledge, each of these
stories reinforce the central themes of the book; they all question
the nature of progress and whether or not humanity, society, or
individual human beings are constantly moving towards something
better, or, in other words, "evolving." Some have remarked that these
stories are a "distraction," but in my opinion, they serve an
important function. Furthermore, I liked that they were "distractions"
in a sense. They literally hinder one's progress through the narrative
and tie into the theme of the novel structurally as well as
semantically. As literary devices, they do for the book what all of
the future iterations of the narrator's self have done to him. Without
giving too much away, one's progress through the book is, in a sense,
an illusion (those familiar with the ending know what I mean).

Others have said that the book is "unrealistic" or that it fell short
of their expectations as being a "love story." In short, the novel is
supposed to be neither of these: it is an absurdly and irreverently
funny novel that is intended to question the sentiment of a
typical "love story" or other such stories. However, if you are
looking for a humorous and thought-provoking novel, I would highly
recommend Q.
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