“You’re the kind of guy who falls in love after one date,” begins Doug Harris’ first novel, YOU Comma Idiot. What follows is a list of other things you might be interested to know about Lee Goodstone. Like how he often rehearses conversations in his head, only to screw them up in real life. Or how he washes his hair three times before a date and then gets caught in the rain. He tells you he’s the kind of guy who feels sorry for himself, but even without him having told you, it’s not that hard to figure out.
Lee Goodstone feels like his cards have been dealt unfairly. He feels that, because of his appearance, he’s always having to settle for second best. Take his friend Johnny for example. Johnny is traditionally handsome and all the girls fall for him, including Honey, who Lee fantasizes about constantly. But she chose Johnny, like all the other girls do, until one day Honey chooses him. And, like a row of dominoes, things in Lee’s life get hinky.
Not only has he just screwed his best friend’s girl, but his friend Henry is being looked at by the cops. Lee’s buddy is muscling in on his dope business and when his dealer sees him on TV shooting his mouth off about Henry being innocent, he’s none too happy, making things even harder on poor Lee.
Set in Montreal, with easily recognizable references and landmarks for anyone familiar with the city, YOU Comma Idiot floats us through the daily life of Lee’s slacker lifestyle.
Readers are quickly absorbed into his inner monologue of appearance obsession, moral dilemmas and smartassery. He feels himself to be pretty smart and makes many a disdainful observation about his friends and associates. Lee is the kind of character everyone’s met at least once in their lives. A slacker to the max, who sells dope, gets drunk on a daily basis and still acts like he’s 19 despite being almost 30. Nevertheless, he’s moronically charming and you can’t help but like him just a little. You’d even date him, maybe.
Written in the second person, the book shifts the onus of Lee’s narrative onto the reader. Since the novel addresses the reader as “you” and the point of view is that of Lee’s, in theory, the reader is Lee. This choice of narrative is particularly effective as it forces the reader to adopt Lee’s ideology without passing judgement. Although Lee makes some rather idiotic choices and occasionally does some less than desirable things, we can’t help sympathizing with him, because he’s us.
Although the novel is written from Lee’s point of view, we have limited access to his past and are kept solely in the present. There’s no intervening narrator to fill you in, which is actually kind of nice. The reader experiences things as they happen to Lee and only discovers key bits of information as they would naturally come out in situations where both parties are aware of what’s happened in the past.
In this way, information is sometimes only hinted at and the reader must make his or her own assumptions. This little ruse makes it especially delightful when the full information is revealed and the reader is proven right or wrong. However, the reader does spend a good part of the novel with many questions, such as: Why is this person important to the story? Who is this person, how does Lee know them? The reader may find themselves skipping back several pages to see if they missed anything.
The dialogue, for the most part, is entirely believable. Whether it’s Honey and Lee’s flirty banter or Henry’s off-kilter replies, it’s easy to picture these characters existing in real life. Harris does an admirable job in capturing the tone of 20-nearly-30-somethings of this day and age.
Launched initially in hardcover in 2010 by Goose Lane Editions, YOU Comma Idiot was re-released in paperback March 23 at Drawn & Quarterly. On its initial release, YOU Comma Idiot was a finalist for the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan prize for fiction and the QWF First Book prize.
YOU Comma Idiot is available at fine book retailers everywhere.