You come for comedy, for sensibility, for style; and in this sense Bubblegum is prodigiously sustaining. Its diction has the casual artfulness of pre-distressed denim ... And Levin unspools seemingly every rhetorical trick in the trivium ... Levin can make the kitchen-sink ambition of (mostly white, mostly male) midcentury postmodernism feel positively new, bidding fair for the maximalist mantle of a Pynchon or a Stanley Elkin. But Levin’s consuming interest in everyday subjectivity equally pulls in the direction of minimalism ... And then there’s his inborn ear for every shade of human babble, here a transcendent four-hander, there a screwball travelogue, everywhere argot and idiolect and argument. When it’s humming, the pileup of plenitude and emptiness is as future-perfect as the Curio itself ... The downside of such rampant felicity is its aptitude to push up on anything that moves ... Conversations grow uniformly windy; for each charming gust of Chicago cross-talk, we get an exhaustingly exhaustive monologue on handkerchiefs ... At the end of paragraphs or pages, water and teller window aren’t so much seen anew as written into oblivion. Which is one way Bubblegum seems weirdly at war with the novelistic form itself. The other is in its flickeringly adolescent view of human nature ... a narrator of rich if ingrown innocence unnerved by the nasty brutality of less innocent others ... Levin’s brains may have earned him a cult like Belt’s, but here he swells to a democratic reach. Give him a try sometime. His gate’s wide open.
... another monumentally imaginative novel ... While the influence of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest looms large—there are long descriptions of movies, Jonboat’s intoxicatingly beautiful wife, a vividly imagined alternate history, and a focus on the costs of entertainment and pleasure—Levin’s vibrant voice is unlike anyone else in contemporary fiction. While breathtakingly bizarre, this relentlessly inventive novel teems with humanity, humor, and pathos like few other recent works and is a book many will obsess over and delight in.
For the first 90 pages—which sounds like a lot—the temptation to quit reading Bubblegum was powerful; the writing seemed simultaneously tiresome yet too clever by half, like it was straining hard and achieving very little ... But upon this reader’s powering through, Levin’s book took hold ... Levin unspools a story that dramatizes thinking to an extent that thought itself becomes as riveting as plot, but in which there’s also actual plot in abundance ... One does sometimes wish that Levin could find it in himself to be more concise, and the book’s meta-memoiristic frame leads to some lengthy passages in the middle...that beg to be skipped or at the very least skimmed ... maybe Bubblegum is an attempt at an empathy ultra-marathon. Not every single moment of the experience feels great, but there’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment when one reaches the end.
Levin writes in swirls, circling around an idea for paragraphs at time. This can be a recipe for profound insight, or it can feel like stalling for time, and too often in Bubblegum it’s the latter, undercutting the external tension of the novel with a half-baked internal one. Levin loves a long sentence with repeated verbs, but he rarely gets the rhythm quite right, and leading the reader to stumble instead of being in the flow. Levin is a writer of demonstrated skill and ambition who has earned the benefit of the doubt, but I’m a smidge past halfway through, and Bubblegum so far lacks the focus and verve that gave his past work its spark.
... a novel that brilliantly straddles that hazy no-man’s land between literary and genre fiction ... To spend 800 pages – and in my case 11 days – in the head of a man crippled with self-doubt and a deep, abiding fear of social interaction isn’t a reading experience I would actively seek out. And yet if Adam Levin had emailed me an additional 100,000 words of Belt’s circuitous ramblings, I would have carried on reading with nary a thought to the contrary. This is because, as Belt’s memoir toggles between 1988 and 2013, Levin does an astonishing job at varying the tone and pitch of the novel. The book is often incredibly funny ... In contrast to the laughs, the story can be emotionally devastating ... if you decide to take the dive, and I heartily suggest you do, reading Bubblegum is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Levin turns in a big, futuristic shaggy dog tale ... [an] overlong but amusing story ... If Levin’s point is that humans are rotten no matter what tools you put in their hands, he proves it again and again. A pleasingly dystopian exercise in building a world without social media—and without social graces, for that matter.
The funny and occasionally moving narrative...starts to feel bloated as Levin goes deep into the history of the cures, adding such metafictional pieces as brochures, research papers, and film transcripts. Despite the novel’s slow parts, Levin creates a fascinating world with a wild and often touching coming-of-age story at its center.