James Hynes ’s unsettling fifth novel, Next, captures eight hours in the life of “melancholy middle-aged” Kevin Quinn as he sneaks away from Ann Arbor to Austin for a clandestine job interview. Quinn is a bundle of neuroses—he’s worried about a recent spate of terrorist bombings, stalled in his editorial position at the University of Michigan, and fairly sure his girlfriend’s maternal desires don’t fit into his aging hipster fantasies. Killing time before his appointment (stalking a pretty young scenester who was on his flight, actually), he trips and ruins his job-hunting suit, which leads to the panicked suspicion that he should just hop the first plane back home. Quinn is obsessively conflicted—his semi-regrets about leaving his girlfriend behind would be more convincing if he wasn’t mentally looping a greatest-hits reel of his sexual exploits—and his self-absorption leaves him all the more vulnerable to the wake-up call he gets from big R Reality. Hynes is a scrupulous writer; the Austinite nails the city’s vibe as a magical land whose residents stay up late getting stoopid and wake up early feeling smart. But Next is more than a cultural travelogue. It’s a dervish of a tale that whips personal and social anxieties into an unforeseen, but perhaps inevitable, climax. Reagan Arthur Books, $23.99
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