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New American Library, $25.95
Reagan Bishop is the token talk therapist on the Chicago-based cable talk show “I Need a Push.” Along with a team of other mental health professionals, including Deva, a New-Age healer, and Dr. Karen, a psychotropic pill peddler, Reagan is charged with “pushing” guests who have agreed to undergo televised treatment to overcome their obsessions and phobias in full view of Oprah-contender Wendy Winsberg’s studio audience.
Off-screen, Reagan deals with her own psychological challenges. Her parents favor her sisters, vaunting their mundane achievements while ignoring Reagan’s Chicago Marathon time and “Good Morning America” appearances. After her ambition required her to dump her good-hearted surfer boyfriend, Boyd, the now 30-something Reagan has nothing on her romantic horizon except Sebastian, an equally driven professional who’s just not that into her.
When “Push” is picked up by the networks, suddenly Reagan is faced with a career-ending quandary — the time she now has to achieve her mental makeovers is drastically reduced, thanks to her new budget-conscious boss, Kassel. After her attempt to deter a starlet from stalking a hip-hop superstar backfires, Reagan’s job is on the line. She enters into an unholy alliance with Deva. And using charms and amulets, Reagan astral-projects herself into her TV patients’ bodies long enough to mime a cure for the cameras.
Author Jen Lancaster’s unerring ear for hipster parlance and passive-aggressive family snark is on full display — but it isn’t until Reagan risks her most daring body swap yet that the novel finds its narrative stride.
Lancaster will sign copies of her new book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.
Why Are You So Sad?
If the narrator from Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” had turned to navel-gazing instead of schizophrenic anarchy, he might resemble the sad-sack hero of this debut novel by Jason Porter. Raymond Champs is a senior pictographer for the North American Division of furniture maker LokiLoki — essentially, he’s the guy who draws the diagrams that are useless in helping you assemble your Ikea furniture.
Ray dwells on the human condition, a characteristic that drives his wife, Brenda, to drink. Asked how he feels, Ray is prone to answers like, “Okay, I guess I feel like a robot that was programmed to believe it was a little boy, but that just cut itself and to its dismay discovers it can’t bleed.” To further his investigations, Ray composes a survey of questions like, “Are you having an affair?” and “Is today worse than yesterday?”
Such testing provides mixed results. Porter is clearly playing with language and has an affinity for absurdist humor and crisp dialogue. However, tools don’t make a novel whole. This exercise in satirizing the cookie-cutter lives of First-World suburbanites may prove taxing to some. The author pulls out a few tricks at the end, as an encounter with an attractive conceptual artist makes Ray rethink his next steps, but a deliberate rug-pulling gimmick at the finale falls flat, failing to lend our hero the sympathy he’s intended to inspire.
Porter will speak and sign copies of his novel at 7 p.m. Friday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.