Q: A Love Story (2011) by Evan Mandery
Q: A Love Story is a misleading title if ever there was one. It is a love story only in the sense that it's a book with a love story in it - most of the plot doesn't relate to this, regardless of what you might (understandably) assume. More unusually and significantly, it's also a time travel story. But more than either of these, it's a comedy. Oh, and the character of Q barely features, only making a couple of appearances, which seems odd given the author's choice to name the book after her.
The premise, however, is great, and certainly caught my attention when I impulsively picked up the hardback from a bookshop display. The unnamed narrator (possibly representing the author himself?), a rather unsuccessful writer, is blissfully happy with the love of his life, Quentina, known to all as Q. He's happy, that is, until the day he is visited by a man who claims to be an older version of himself, from a point in the not-too-distant future when time travel has been invented. This man tells the narrator he must leave Q, or else something terrible will come to pass that will ruin both their lives. The narrator chooses to heed the warning, and thereafter, his life becomes dominated by attempts to avoid various awful fates.
I loved the idea of a person being visited by their future self, and I also loved that the story was set in contemporary New York - there seemed to be so much that could potentially be done with this scenario. Unfortunately, the book wastes it. The tenderness of the love story and all the potential intrigues of the time travel detail are jettisoned in favour of what seemed to me like a rather heavy-handed satire. None of the minor characters are developed further than a one-note caricature. There's an irritating repeated emphasis on the 'quirkiness' of the narrator and Q - they're very eco-conscious, they like painfully cool indie music and cult films, Q grows organic vegetables in an Eden-like garden in the heart of NYC etc etc - which, honestly, made them seem more like awful stereotypes of smug, middle-class, white hipsters (I hate that word, but it's SO apt for these people!) than anything else. And Q is, of course, one of those radiantly beautiful, incredibly kind, apparently flawless female characters with no negative traits whatsoever that authors so love to invent. After a while of this I did begin to wonder whether Mandery actually wanted the reader to find the protagonists insufferable - confusing since you're meant to care about the romance between them.
Ultimately, Q is much more of a farce than a love story. Mandery dwells on the ridiculousness of the narrator blindly following whatever his future selves, who crop up with increasing regularity as the book progresses, tell him to do. Entertaining, I suppose, but not half as good as what could have been done with an idea like this. The writing reminded me of Jonathan Franzen's style, and indeed this story may appeal to fans of Franzen, but its humour lacks any kind of real edge. I have to give it some credit for a genuinely interesting, original premise and a half-decent ending. Unfortunately, in every other way it was rather disappointing.