You could call the novel meandering, and it is, but in the best possible way ... Hicks does a near-perfect job tracing each character's evolving needs, desires and resentments over the course of seven years ... The themes in Amateurs — friendship, love, envy — could potentially make for a maudlin novel. But Hicks, while undoubtedly a compassionate author, is never sentimental. He writes with a similar measured earnestness that calls to mind the best of Ann Beattie and Anne Tyler.
There’s a lot happening in Amateurs. At times, its density can be foreboding: The pages in which Hicks introduces the cast of characters across two parallel timelines early in the book can be slow going. It’s the sort of novel where trusting in the fact that a payoff will come is essential to reading it. And, in fact, several seemingly minor details, including one character’s obsession with his own annotations of the work of others, tend to pay off by the time the book reaches its conclusion ... The setup of Hicks’ novel is the stuff of classic comic fiction; the minute details and anxieties that surround its characters, however, are what endures.
That Hicks can write isn’t debatable. What is debatable is what, exactly, he’s trying to say, or whether he even knows. Amateurs seems to open as a classic wedding novel, introducing the title’s cast of directionless M.F.A. grads and chronic underachievers — all of them former or current or future friends — during the lead-up to their buddy Archer Bondarenko’s Winnipeg wedding in July 2011. Jumps in time between 2004-5 and 2011, and a fervent dependence on adverbs, will keep all but the most tenacious reader from grasping that Archer is in fact the planet around which this novel’s convoluted story lines orbit ... If the first half of Amateurs is an arduous exercise in seating arrangements, expounding how the characters know one another, or should, the second half is an indiscernible sendup of Archer as a privileged fleecer in what feels less like a deserved comeuppance than a desperate last attempt at plot.
That set-up may be a tough sell to some readers, as it was to me. In synopsis Amateurs resembles a mediocre indie dramedy of the sub-Stillman/Baumbach mold...But Hicks is too astute an observer of quarter-life ennui, too precise and empathetic a chronicler of his characters’ very real anxieties to write Amateurs off so easily. This isn’t just a book featuring pretentious, privileged people; it is a book about privilege, about pretension ... Hicks’ masterful free indirect narration afford[s] nearly all of the core characters unexpected depth and anguish ... Most impressively, Amateurs captures the intricacies of social exchange in a screen-dominated culture.