Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel

At last, a wonder drug for the havering hordes
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The Independent Culture

That would seem anathema to today's generation of American McSweeneyites, reared by Dave Eggers and his cohorts on a diet of Zeitgeisty in-text symbols, typographical aberrances and those inevitable DFW-style footnotes. Populist novels with flickers of sincerity, therefore, find themselves falling between stools: and Indecision, a comical book with an earnest little heart, is no exception.

Dwight Wilmerding, the protagonist, would like you to believe he suffers from abulia - a medical inability to make decisions. He just about holds down a job in customer relations at Pfizer, but he wilts in aporia over which bagel to eat in the morning or where to take his girlfriend on Saturday. Then - wouldn't ya know it? - he loses the job too.

Fortunately, there's a solution: Abulinix, a drug formulated especially to treat the havering hordes of today's society. A few tablets later, our man is on a plane to Ecuador to meet an old flame. Instead he finds Brigid, a likely-looking Belgian anthropologist with the social conscience he so patently lacks. And off they head into the jungle, destination eventual redemption.

Kunkel is an adroit and confident stylist, and Indecision has some very tightly constructed comic sequences. A woman vomiting "sounded like a sick enormous bird whose calls of distress are played at too few rpm"; a rap outfit has a CD called "An Embarrassment of Bitches".

But the novel is marred by the tension between its throwaway comedy and its moments of sincerity. The second half, in which Dwight's adventures in Ecuador turn him from a feckless wage-slave into a soi-disant "democratic socialist", is poorly handled: comic lightness of touch sinks under a heavy-handed discussion of America's world-raping foreign policy.

Kunkel has clearly taken Wallace's injunction of sincerity to heart. But he's also learnt a lot from writers of the 1990s, and not all of it is well assimilated: the Gap-wearing New York slackers from Coupland, the conceit of the miracle drug from DeLillo, the awkwardly self-scrutinising style of comic diction from Wallace himself. Kunkel blends these with a touch of post-9/11 accidie and riffs on the Bush Administration, but either his style is not robust enough to anchor the comedy or the comedy is not grinçant enough to persuade. Despite occasional delights, Indecision remains more of a placebo than a wonder drug.