Emo is the operative word of this debut novel, titled after an Elliott Smith song and prefaced by a Death Cab quote, a chronicle of “the tsunami of sadness and regret” in the wake of—what else?—a breakup. Having already written a definitive primer on the genre (Nothing Feels Good), rock critic Andy Greenwald follows fellow Spin-sters Marc Spitz and Dave Itzkoff into pseudo-autobio-about-self-
Like most honest freelance writers, David Gould stalks adolescent hotties on LiveJournal blogs under the pretense of “book research.” In lieu of his girlfriend and a social life, he pines after elusive Murakami-phile Cath (MzMisery) and fields Brooklyn-lifestyle inquiries and crestfallen emoticons from Ashleigh (TheWrongGirl87), a teenage Mormon malcontent from Utah. In desperation mode, David invents a club-hopping, coke-binging online identity that morphs into a living, breathing doppelgänger who defames the Gould name all over Page Six. Then, David’s two ladies make separate pilgrimages to NYC and force him out of the computer cocoon. Reality bites.
Greenwald’s pastiche of emo tropes (AIM conversations, annotated mix tapes), dime-store Freud, and corny similes (“a grip as loose as a Hilton sister”) adds up to the equivalent of an overly earnest late-night blog post you regret in the morning. Our narrator myopically renders Manhattan as a cartoonish hipster playground, a desiccated wonderland of Mercury Lounges and secret underground bars. Though David denounces the Avenue A clique as “painfully hip,” he fondly dotes on his vintage Go-Betweens T-shirt.
David lacks the shaggy-dog charm of the slacker hero in Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision, and the title character acts mainly as macguffin. Ashleigh is Miss Misery‘s only recognizable human, a resourceful teen who uses bands, bad poetry, and cyberspace to escape familial repression. Drop her into a better novel, and she’s an Austen heroine for the MySpace generation.