A failed marriage, layoff, and literary letdown are too much to stomach when Simon Burchwood’s ex-wife and kids suddenly – and mysteriously – leave town. This time, though, he’s had enough. Determined to reassemble and permanently reclaim his shattered life, Simon and a pair of oddball sidekicks embark on a quest to answer the “question of all questions” :
Why is life so hard?
While “The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood” boasts a well-crafted plotline, its 224-page sequel is a rambling, loosely-knit narrative that swiftly outruns itself and never regains composure.
Sure, there’s vision – a trio of lawless misfits road-tripping through Austin, Dallas, and Oklahoma in pursuit of existential meaning. But Semegran’s promising plot is spoiled from the get-go, as Simon’s “cooler-than-thou” persona steadily outwears its welcome. Even his trite catchphrase –“It’s true”– paints Simon as an unflattering, middle-aged Holden Caulfield, with whom readers are unable to sympathize.
Raunchier themes fail to enliven recycled material. Traits intended to be idiosyncratic seem caricatured. But it’s Simon’s woefully underdeveloped supporting cast – especially a socially inept “Snaggle” – that prevents the novel from ever leaving the ground.
Occasionally, flashes of hilarity – including quips about government productivity – reveal themselves throughout the text. Yet humor alone cannot sustain a slack plotline – much less the “illusion of adventure” generated by moving characters from one place to another, like pawns on a chess board.
That said, the novel does possess a handful of redeeming qualities. The alluring Gina, while more symbol than living character, presents a foil for Simon’s self-absorbed and misanthropic outlook. It’s Gina, for instance, that teaches Simon that life is a string of losses punctuated by small – albeit fleeting – victories. But that poignancy – along with the finer points of Semegran’s novel – are swiftly spoiled as readers are once again dragged into Simon’s distastefully egocentric world.
Reviewed by Sonia Tsuruoka
Johns Hopkins undergraduate majoring in International Studies and Writing Seminars. Aspiring journalist.