THE ART OF LOVE (& LOATHING) by Stephen Daniel Ruiz is an alternately funny and heartbreaking story of a man trying to rebuild his life after divorce, drug addiction, and a stint in rehab, amidst a world that seems to be breaking down around him. The lead character, Arthur Kimble, can’t seem to get his feet under him – every time he seems to find himself, another betrayal, either external or (mostly) self-induced, leaves him reaching for help and stability in all the wrong places. He truly wants to be a good father, a brilliant writer, to overcome his addiction and find a solid relationship, but he keeps sabotaging himself by trying to find the easy way out rather than address the real problems at the heart of his life. In the end, the book centers around honesty, the need to be absolutely, clearly, and brutally honest with oneself, at least, even if all around you lies and sellouts abound.
Arthur is a sympathetic hero – even if he keeps making the wrong decisions, he does so for utterly human and understandable reasons. The bird detective Huxley, protagonist of Arthur’s own successful writing series, acts as a voice of conscience and self-awareness, albeit one Arthur initially tries to hide from or suppress. Arthur’s interactions with him give the reader a clear view of his internal debates, of his frustration with his own bad choices and seeming inability to turn his life around, making the reader care about him even as we watch him self-destruct. With a few exceptions, those around him don’t seem to be any better at being honest with themselves or others, and part of the heartache of the novel is watching him find out that relationships and people he considered utterly solid and trustworthy are just as broken as he is. Illusions and pretenses keep getting stripped away, until near the end of the book, we’re finally shown the mutual betrayal at the heart of the collapse of Arthur’s marriage, a betrayal that set all the others in motion.
THE ART OF LOVE (& LOATHING) is not a book for those who want an action-filled plot or a quick and easy read. It’s long, drags in a few places, and spends a lot of time on internal thought processes and philosophizing. This is a book for savoring and reading over time, which requires some thought and careful reading to be fully enjoyed.
THE ART OF LOVE (& LOATHING) is a wry, cynical, yet surprisingly touching look at life, creativity, identity, and love through the eyes of a flawed but likeable protagonist.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader