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The Pint Man (book review)

February 25, 2010

The Pint Man: A Novel
by Steve Rushin
Doubleday, February 2009 $24.95 259 pages

Reading The Pint Man is an invitation into Rodney Poole’s thoughts. 34, unemployed and aimless, Rodney spends most evenings at Boyle’s, his local, as he drinks one pint after another “of Guinness, with its clerical collar of foam,” filling out crossword puzzles, and having meandering, trivia laden conversations with the bar’s other patrons, in the dim cave of Boyle’s, an Irish pub in Manhattan.  I have a feeling I’ve been in this bar. Or somewhere enough like it to wonder whether The Pint Man is too New York to be read anywhere else. It’s a meandering, poetic sprawl of a novel, littered with odd facts and side notes.

Rodney’s a wordsmith, a pun and trivia collector, a crossword puzzle fiend. Shy, and deeply averse to change or conflict, he likes the ritual of an after-work pint, even though he’s at the loose ends of being downsized from a job he never liked. His best friend, Keith, is getting married, which nudges Rodney to wonder what he should be doing about moving forward. That thought, like the entire novel, has more of a tentative, wandering dreaminess than any real heft.

Reading this is like sitting in Boyle’s with Rodney, drinking pints poured by Armen the Barman, and having a far-flung ramble of a conversation: the kind of conversation that only happens in bars, preferably late at night and well lubricated by Guinness. I feel like I’ve met Rodney, at a pub quiz somewhere. There were some passages where I wondered if I’d dated Rodney… or at least the author’s inspiration for him. What keeps Rodney’s aimlessness from being annoying is his bibliophile’s appetite for punctuating the narrative with goofy facts and musings. Quoting Benjamin Franklin “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” one minute, and odd advertising slogans the next- Rodney’s cluttered mind is endearing, at least to a fellow Guinness drinking trivia hound.

Even the emergence of a love interest, in the person of career girl Mairead, feels tentative and muted. Rodney is a man of comforts and rituals, who is more accustomed to the risks of having a pun fall flat or his odd sense of humor misunderstood, than a man of any grand passions.  That said, I love the unfolding of his and Mairead’s relationship- from a first date, to a few nights talking in bars, to a good wander through The Strand bookstore. The sweet, chaste shyness and banter is a very welcome relief from the usual rom-com trope where Boy Meets Girl, Sparks Fly and they wind up in bed at top speed. Diverting from the expected romantic cliches forces you to slow down and pay attention.

I wound up getting this from the Star-Ledger, not to review officially in print, but because Debbie the office manager at the editorial department sent it over with a note “This made me think of you.” Maybe what I liked was the recognition of such a strong sense of New York, and a trivia-obsessed mind certain of literary quotes but uncertain of the big details of being a grownup. Or maybe what I liked was the language and metaphor itself- sensory and thick about everything from a pint of Guinness to a walk in New York in August to a fetid bar men’s room, calling for the reader to pause, and really pay attention.

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