Does it seem like I use that phrase a lot? Well, too bad. I’m not sure why, but a lot of people in this part of the Internet are resistant to the very idea of reading fiction. “That shit’s for girls, brah!” Maybe I’m just not alpha enough to devote all my free time to banging supermodels and bench-pressing 300 down at the gym, but I like novels. Good ones, anyway. Man does not live by bread alone, and you need to read fiction and literary nonfiction in order to become a well-rounded individual.
I’d rather die than live in a world where I can’t read books like NVSQVAM (Nowhere).
NVSQVAM trods familiar ground for manospherians, as it’s a tale of middle-class male ennui in the suburbs. The novel concerns Lester Reichartsen, poster boy for middle-aged white male failure, and his exile in a shithole college town in southern Illinois (the town is not named, but I suspect Carbondale, based on geographical descriptions and the fact that Sterzinger herself is an alum of the school there). Kicked out of a punk band and guilted into marrying his girlfriend Evelyn after she gets pregnant, Lester resorts to grad school, last refuge of the middle-aged loser, while despising everything about his life:
As Lester tamped down the memories, a woman in a vomit-green sort of tank slowed down to get a better look at him. Propped against the massive window next to her was a purple gym bag with huge letters saying PROUD TO BE A CHRISTIAN MOM. But her hot-dog-roll bangs and sticking looking fake eyelashes gave her the air of an ill-preserved hooker. She stared, breathing heavily through her thin orangey lips. Then she folded her hands, used her knees to hold the steering wheel, and drove off, praying.
NVSQVAM succeeds in part because despite being a woman, Sterzinger absolutely nails the hopelessness and listlessness of the average middle-aged American man. It sounds condescending to write that, but being able to write convincing characters of the opposite sex is a tough job for any novelist, and Sterzinger accomplishes it with aplomb.
In fact, she arguably does it a little too well.
Lester is basically a mash-up of Ferdinand Bardamu and Walter Mitty, with a dash of Eduard Limonov in It’s Me, Eddie (namely the parts where he’s having gay sex with homeless black men). The defining theme in his life is his utter powerlessness over everything and everyone he encounters. Bossed around by his wife and son Martin, the latter of whom reminds me of Oskar Schell from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (in that Sterzinger depicts how annoying a kid like that would be in real life), Lester constantly fantasizes about Martin meeting a grisly end. Too effete for the Bible Belt bubbas who dominate Carbondale, he hides out in the town’s only gay bar, and his escapades with a teenage girl he meets wearing one of his old band’s T-shirts is almost Pleasant Hell-esque in its patheticness:
“Oh, you mean that shirt? The really grungy one? You mean that was a real band?” She laughed a laugh which sounded unnervingly like David Letterman’s. “I found that shirt in somebody’s trash. I thought it was a gag. Like, who would have a band with a name that stupid? And the guys on it… three of ‘em looked like what the cat dragged in, and then there was this ludicrously cute little dude who looked like he belonged in some Goth boy-band from a parallel universe. That was a real band? Oh, wow, did you ever see them?”
Sterzinger’s lurching, Celinean prose is both descriptive yet economical, fleshing out every detail of the Reichartsens’ wretched world. While the book is fairly long (over 300 pages with cramped, small font), it never feels like she’s padding the length out or wasting time, and there are laugh-out-loud moments every other page. NVSQVAM is augmented by snarky footnotes from the narrator—who dictates the story like it’s happening in the distant past—explaining various pop cultural references we take for granted, such as this definition of Walmart:
Ubiquitous ‘superstore’ selling cheap merchandise to Americans at the expense of their jobs. Founded by Sam Walton, a poor bastard who became a rich bastard through personal qualities which are, fortunately, lacking in most moral beings.
The first part of NVSQVAM concerns Lester’s attempts to deal with his terminal depression, his consistent failure to obtain quality antidepressants from his psychiatrist (who cites his constant drinking as proof that he’ll just get addicted), and his visits to his father and in-laws for Christmas, the latter of which ends in a surreal reunion with his former bandmates. Throughout the novel, Lester desperately pines to return to Chicago, land of his youth, with his actions and those of the people around him dragging him further and further away from his goal. I won’t spoil the second half of the book, only to say that Lester’s dreams come true… in a twisted, Monkey’s Paw fashion.
And even in this, Lester is completely impotent, his life dictated by everyone else around him.
That, if anything, is the defining theme of NVSQVAM: the lingering unease that Generation X has with American culture and themselves. Sterzinger’s writing is shot through with GenX tropes: punk rock, David Letterman, Nirvana, and anti-consumerism among them. Lester constantly finds himself in conflict with everyone younger or older than him, whether it’s his overly serious, domineering father or his ditzy pseudo-hipster paramour Cyndi. Sterzinger’s writing reminds me of a secular, more stridently anti-natalist version of her friend Andy Nowicki; indeed, Nowicki once characterized Sterzinger’s canon as “anti-life fiction.”
And despite this religious gap, Nowicki’s and Sterzinger’s work is more similar than different; both feature self-immolating loser protagonists who spiral into mental illness in response to the world rejecting them.
Generation X was both with one foot in the old world and one in the new. They were eyewitnesses to the final collapse of the traditionalist West and its usurpation by cultural Marxism; anti-white multiculturalism, feminism and consumerism. Pretty much every work of literature or art that came from GenX is defined by this discomfort and alienation from the world, whether it’s the existential nausea of Kurt Cobain or the rudderless hedonism of Mark Ames.
As a Millennial, I’m never going to be able to understand this alienation in anything more than an abstract sense. Millennials are alienated, that much is obvious, but the particular kind of alienation in Heart Killer and NVSQVAM (Nowhere) is GenX’s alone. I can see on an intellectual level why, for example, Andy Nowicki opposes the self-improvement “game” culture of the manosphere to the point where he would endorse masturbation over fornication, but I instinctively reject his conclusions; my psychological makeup simply can’t find them palatable.
It’s a generational gap that will never be traversed.
Nonetheless, I can gaze into the abyss of GenX with riveting, hilarious novels like NVSQVAM (Nowhere). As a comic yet poignant expression of an entire generation’s angst, NVSQVAM is top-notch and an absolute necessity for your collection.
Click here to buy NVSQVAM (Nowhere).