Where other authors might opt for satire, West instead delivers a kind of highly wrought kitsch realism that implicates everyone, including the narrator. His style’s mingled tenderness and grotesquerie can sometimes read like a distant cousin to Winesburg, Ohio ... The competition distills all of the novel’s other themes, particularly the idea that changing your body, your attitude, or your surroundings will somehow change your life. Americans’ faith in self-reinvention—a faith that is now itself a commodity—is the final punchline.
This debut offers an acute, painfully funny front-row view of a midlife crisis in action. Mr. West writes in the vein of what has been called dirty realism, bringing style and erudition to the subject of Middle American drudgery. Unfurnished apartments, tacky mall restaurants and public buses are all depicted in unflattering close-ups ... Under the microscope are the strange habits of men who are incapable of discussing their emotions with one another yet constantly reveal them in the most tortured, vulnerable ways. The narrator’s father, ridiculous and resilient, is a desperately touching character and I was anxious for the book to not make too much fun of him. Apart from a misbegotten final sentence, it doesn’t—Mr. West is unsparing but tender. His narrator is also a man, after all, yearning for love but with no idea how to ask for it.
... slim, sad, comic and sharply observed ... The minor characters are eye-catching, too ... West, a superb translator by profession – his translation of When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut was shortlisted for the International Booker prize – writes surgically precise prose. The young man notes his father’s verbal quirks and describes his peculiar gait with the detachment of a doctor examining his patient ... West’s achievement, in this subtle and delightful book, is to have rendered failure in strikingly handsome terms.
... a compact and stirring, if uneven, portrait of transgenerational hesitation. At its best, the novel showcases the recognizable confusion of a changing world. Actions no longer earn their predictable reactions ... West has an eye for detail...But not all of his descriptions land...In these more jarring moments, the novel tests its way forward, exhibiting an uncertainty that the bodybuilding plot, introduced halfway through the book, seems to reinforce.
... dark, slim, emotionally precise ... West’s language does most of the work to convey this broken-down mood ... West is consistently poised on a very narrow line between blackhearted contempt for these characters and comic mockery of them. But because he never slips off that line, he generates a certain affection for his characters, even if it’s clear how that body-transformation scheme is going to go. Everybody here is hard to love, but their good intentions, however misguided, make them easy to engage with ... A crisp novel with plenty of momentum despite chronicling lives stuck in neutral.
... accomplished ... one of the most explosive, insane midlife crises in recent literary history ... The ensuing comedy of diets, supplements, estrogen blockers, and drug routines are Rabelaisian in their variety and extremity ... Tender, sardonic, and endearingly grotesque, this coming-of-age body horror makes easy work of the heavy lifting.