Jernigan by David Gates

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4/5 Stars.

Imagine if Holden Caulfield grew up and became an alcoholic father. Meet Peter Jernigan, the 20th century post-modern anti-hero at the center of this novel. A year after his wife’s death, Jernigan finds himself in a bizarre relationship with a strange suburban survivalist who happens to be the mother of his son’s girlfriend. There’s no way this can possibly end well.

Written in the first person, Jernigan is so blatantly irreverent, so bitterly ironic and nihilistic that it’s impossible not to be endlessly amused by Jernigan’s sarcastic musings and self-conscious insights while at the same time pitying his self-destructive behaviors and apparent inability to experience joy.

Throughout it all, it’s clear that Jernigan is trying to do right by his son, and some of the scenes between the two of them are jarringly tender in spite of Jernigan’s utter incompetence.

I’ve found that in life most humor conceals an undercurrent of melancholy, and even (especially) at his most acerbic, Jernigan’s grief and fear of failure are evident. Ultimately, I can’t figure out if this is one of the funniest or saddest books I’ve read.

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