Apathy and Other Small Victories follows Shane, an aimless twenty eight year old wanderer. When he’s not in bed with his landlord’s wife, he spends his time sleeping in the handicap stall of the insurance company he’s temping for. Well, that and stealing salt shakers from diners.
Shane gets caught up in a murder investigation following the death of a friend – a deaf dental assistant named Marlene. Shane seems to know more than he’s letting on to the police, can he escape arrest or does he even care?
Before I get to the review, allow me to be a tad self-indulgent like those folks that post their life story before they give you a recipe online.
Back in 2008, I wasn’t what you would call a “Constant Reader”. Up to that point in my life, my reading experience consisted of assigned reading in high school, the odd wrestling biography/memoir and a handful of Chuck Palahniuk books. A friend of mine directed me to The Cult, a fansite for Chuck that opened the door to books by authors with a similar style as well as books that Chuck personally recommended. If I recall correctly, this was how I came to read House of Leaves, The Raw Shark Texts and this book, Apathy and Other Small Victories.
Those three books helped to light a fire in me, so to speak. They showed me that reading wasn’t just “work” (although, some books can still feel that way) and that it could be an enjoyable way to pass the time. So, if anything, I consider Paul Neilan’s lone novel a building block that would form the foundation of all that was to follow.
That being said, I didn’t enjoy Apathy and Small Victories as much as I did the first go around.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a fun read for the most part. The crime aspect is pretty solid and there are still plenty of laugh out loud jokes and scenes. I will say that Neilan’s take down of office life is chillingly accurate. I’ve definitely worked in one or two offices similar to what Shane describes. However, I felt like he wouldn’t leave it alone after a while. Yes, I get how soul-crushing it can be to work in an office like that, but I’m not interested in reading about how much it sucks over and over and over again as it becomes less of a story and more of a platform to regurgitate some sort of deep-seated hatred of office life.
When I finished this last night, I was trying to figure out what about it spoke to me when I first read it eleven years ago. I mean, no one in this book is likeable. The plot, while memorable, really isn’t anything special. Then I thought, maybe it was more of a shock to my system. Prior to this book, I hadn’t read a true comedic novel before and I suppose the novelty of this must have blown my mind. It was like a more nihilistic Office Space. For years, I’ve held this up in my head as one of the better books I had ever read and since that initial read, I’ve been clamoring for a follow-up. Now that I’ve revisited it, I don’t think I will be any longer.