Sean Trinder’s The Guy Who Pumps Your Gas Hates You and Hollie Adams’s Things You’ve Inherited from Your Mother both focus their attention on that (hopefully brief) period after adolescence but before finding a foothold in adulthood. With youthful energy, Trinder and Adams tell stories of misguided protagonists making their way in a post-9/11 world.
The Guy Who Pumps Your Gas Hates You is narrated by Brendan, a 20-year-old who has been pumping gas for three years. Secretly, he wants to be a writer. Instead of writing, however, he spends most of his time pre-drinking – “getting drunk in preparation for getting drunk” – with high-school friends he no longer likes. His dad, the kind of father who gives his son a carton of cigarettes for Christmas, berates Brendan for his boozy nights and late mornings, and suggests that he should grow up and become a bricklayer. Prodded by a new girlfriend, who is significantly older than he is, Brendan finally finds the energy and courage to sign up for a creative communications course. His dad dismissively tells him that the education will be sure to come in handy when the writing factories start hiring.
The novel’s language will alienate some readers. There are F-bombs on every page, and Brendan repeatedly explains that all of his customers are assholes. (The book begins with a rant disputing the platitude that the customer is always right.) Brendan despises everyone: his customers, his ex-girlfriend, his current friends, and his dad.
The Guy Who Pumps Your Gas Hates You is an angry-young-man novel; as such, it utilizes a laconic, hyper-masculine style. (One chapter consists entirely of the sentence “I don’t want to talk about it.”) The language, hostility, and intense masculinity of this book might limit its audience. However, readers who see the novel through to the conclusion will be rewarded. In the end – and somewhat surprisingly – The Guy Who Pumps Your Gas turns out to be an unusual story about romantic, familial, and self love.
The Things You’ve Inherited from Your Mother is surprising in different ways. This slim but potent novel takes the form of a faux personal improvement guide, very reminiscent of Lorrie Moore’s first novel, Self-Help. Adams also adopts a second-person point of view, and administers advice such as “How to Cheat Without Getting Caught.”
The second-person “you” is Carrie, who, like Trinder’s Brendan, is a mess. She cannot keep a job. She has no education. She is a chronic liar. She drinks too much, often in the morning. She cannot set a decent example for her 16-year-old daughter, who is the result of a furtive exchange in Carrie’s last year of high school. Carrie thinks maybe her daughter is a slut, but cannot offer much guidance because she is too busy trying to figure out how to get out of an accidental marriage proposal and the web of lies developing around it. Most outlandish of all, Carrie appears to have no empathy, or even sympathy, for her very ill mother.
The narrator’s sharp, sardonic wit is particularly unexpected in the parts of the story that deal with the mother’s diagnosis of terminal ovarian cancer. However, as Carrie explains, her aim is to put “the can back in cancer.” She imagines writing a self-help book with just that title.
Carrie’s story is told via a mix of to-do lists, pie charts, self-analysis forms, corny jokes, choose-your-own-adventure prompts, and video-game commands. Readers will find much to laugh over as they follow Carrie’s exploits with spray-on tanning lotion, her “Pie Chart of the People Who Call Your Landline Now that Your Mother is Dead,” and lists such as “People You’re Sure Your Mother Hired from Beyond the Grave to Drive You Insane.”
Like Trinder’s novel, Things You’ve Inherited from Your Mother is a coming-of-age story of sorts, but this one is focused on a protagonist who is coming of age rather late. Whereas Brendan must overcome his hatred of others to find his way into adulthood, Carrie needs to overcome her hatred of herself. These are accessible, energetic, and humorous novels – Reality Bites redefined for the Twitter generation.