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Ian Spiegelman: Everyone's Burning


Everyone's Burning

Author: Ian Spiegelman
Publisher: Villard

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Clambering through the first few chapters of Ian Spiegelman's debut novel Everyone's Burning takes some effort; his liquored-up, hallucinating, jittering characters spew non sequiturs seemingly at random, responding more to their own unmapped inner tides than to external stimuli such as their friends and environment. Their relationships are based on the barbed comfort of long acquaintance and mutual need, and they tolerate or ignore each other's rough edges, at least so long as no two sets of needs conflict. Which they generally don't, unless sex is involved. Spiegelman's poor young Queens-dwelling twentysomethings don't precisely reify sex–it's not a solution, and it's not even a driving need, but it's one more functional distraction, like cocaine and 7-Eleven Big Gulps full of Jack Daniel's and Coke. Still, it's a distraction that demands more time and effort than anything else. Spiegelman's protagonist, 23-year-old Leon Koch ("Crotch" to his non-friends), is a submissive in search of a domme who will take over responsibility for his directionless life and make him feel real fear–possibly the same fear he felt when he was molested by a stranger when he was 8. But he's no more aware of this dynamic than he is of anything else around him: why some of his friends talk too much and others not at all, why some of them self-destruct and others don't, and so on. Spending too much time watching such oblivious and instinctive characters bounce off each other without learning anything can be dull–lacking insight into themselves or each other, Leon and his peers are flat portraits of a subculture rather than entrées into it–but Spiegelman wisely keeps his first book short and tight, little more than a minute series of vignettes in which nothing is learned and very little changes. Coherency isn't often a strong point, either in his scenes or in his characters' troubled heads, but he writes with conviction and a strong sense of tone and detail, and his brief, loosely connected chapters function almost like short stories, little gut-punch peeks into a raw world of anomie-riddled desperation. The world of Everyone's Burning isn't pleasant, but it's convincingly drawn and worth visiting, if only for the sense of relief that comes from escaping afterward.