Hot Pink by Adam Levin
Hot Pink, Adam Levin’s sophomore book from McSweeney’s, is a lot easier to handle than his debut. His sprawling, mammoth, 1,000 plus page The Instructions was an event, challenging the reader as if they were running a marathon. The rewards were worth it but the endurance proved too strong for some (I myself had to go back and finish the second half after putting it down a couple of times.) This time around Levin is dabbling his pen in shorter fiction with a collection of ten stories, all varying in length from a few pages to more than thirty, culminating in the title story to finish the collection.
Published in mid March, Hot Pink shows off Levin’s skill as a writer in a number of ways. His range, whether it be subject matter, point of view, tone, or style, is tremendous. Don’t disregard this book as potential outtakes from his novel, which because of its size could easily have spun off dozens of smaller stories. Levin invents all new worlds here, though the setting for most is familiar territory, the Midwest, namely Chicago. There are hints of other writer’s influences throughout the book, namely George Saunders, whom Levin studied under at Syracuse University. This influence doesn’t take away from Levin’s unique vision, one that he mastered and pushed to the limits in The Instructions. But now, with a shorter form, he has been able to condense that fury, corralling that energy and unleashing the emotion to the point where it almost bursts off the page.
The ebb and flow created by Levin’s writing, and the placement of the stories themselves, creates a unique reading experience: both fun and demanding. Take the shortest work of the collection, “The Extra mile” for instance. Situated after two lengthier, emotionally heavy and highly nuanced stories, this story of a group of retired male widows in Florida describing the lengths they went to please their wives, is hilarious in concept and execution and provides a nice respite between Levin’s more overtly ambitious stories.
My favorite in the collection is the first piece, “Frankenwittgenstein,” which, with it’s beginning reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s command of intricately technical language and, as the story progresses, morphs into a dark comedy the likes of which David Sedaris would be proud of. “RSVP” is another gem as the underlying joking nature of the piece is contained beneath a serious exterior, concluding with a punch line at the very end.
The rest of the stories all have their individual moments of beauty. In all, Hot Pink showcases the author’s ability to conjure up emotional depth in even the shallowest of pools, providing echoes of equal parts love, fear and hate that keep ringing in the reader’s ears long after the book is finished. Humor seems to anchor all of the tales in this collection. From this mindset, Levin catapults his character’s introspective mindsets into a growing action that reveal their motives on the go, all the while steaming forward to conclusions that are, in some instances, ludicrous and others foreseeable. This mixing of the expected with the far-fetched creates a wide spectrum through which Levin uses his vast amounts of talent to weave solidly constructed and, ultimately, moving pieces.
The precariousness of life, and love, is present in all these tales as Levin spins stories of ordinary people into complex, often life altering, damaged people who are forced to take another look at their lives. This has a haunting effect, leaving the reader to reconsider the impact, both external and internal, of his character’s everyday lives. This mood of constantly reconfigured emotions, changed mindsets, detoured outcomes, permeates the entire collection, giving Levin the freedom to explore the underbelly of what may look like, at the beginning of each story, a normal portrait.
First time readers of Levin need not go back and read The Instructions first. Hot Pink has everything they need of this talented author wrapped up in a much smaller, yet equally satisfying, package. A solid follow-up to a great debut, Hot Pink will surely have something for almost every reader. You’d be hard pressed to find a better collection in the past few years and with it Levin has placed himself among the top-tier of talented young writer’s of his generation.