& Review: The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl.  Publisher: Algonquin Books.

The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl.
Publisher: Algonquin Books.

“In the case of true love, there can be system failures”

The Book Itself:
What a great title! And book cover! Intricate line art, monochromatic but still really interesting, silhouette art – I love everything about it!

My Review: Meet Evelyn and Godfrey. Evelyn is breaking up with her boyfriend, who’s passing out advertisements for his band on a snowy street corner in Baltimore. She’s seen their dismal future together at Dr. Chin’s office: she and her boyfriend, both many years older, singing Happy Birthday to a Chihuahua and arguing about cheese. She hopes for more. Meanwhile, Godfrey is proposing to his girlfriend, Madge, who’s not quite willing to take that leap; she wants to see their future together first–just to be sure they re meant for each other. The Future for Curious People follows Evelyn and Godfrey’s soon-to-be-entwined lives, set in motion by the fabulist premise of a world with envisionists like Dr. Chin. As the characters struggle with their pasts and possible futures, they wrestle with sorrow, love, death, and fate. This novel will capture you with its brightness, its hopefulness, its anxious twists and turns; it is a love story that is ultimately a statement about happiness and how to accept our fleeting existence.

So this is a weird little story. What’s weird about it is our little friends, Godfrey and Evelyn. They take “quirky” and walk a mile away with it. They’re looking at quirky in the rearview mirror (tell me what TV show I just quoted that from, and you get a million imaginary golden ponies). Which is cool, I like a little quirk. But the quirk gets in the way of actual character building.

Both Godfrey and Evelyn have parental issues. Many characters and Real People do. But Evelyn and Godrey constantly reference their parental issues. Constantly. I don’t think there’s a chapter in this book where Godfrey doesn’t talk about his skirtchasing dad. If it’s Evelyn’s turn to narrate a chapter, she laments at least once that her parents ignore her. And that her sister’s death when she was little caused her to be born as a replacement. With such constant repetition of issues, I’d expect them to grow from such adversity, or try to move past them. But neither of them get a firm resolution to these issues. In fact, both of them get a fresh whammy about their respective parent issues (a letter, an Envisioning session) in the last few chapter of the book, both of which make them feel even WORSE about their issues. It was incredibly frustrating.

That aside, I loved the premise. It was, of course, the reason I purchased the book. Evelyn is obsessed with finding out about her romantic futures with various suitors. She can’t help but feel there’s something better out there. Godfrey is unsettled by his Envisioned future with hopefully-fiancee-but-she-won’t-wear-the-ring-Madge. Obviously the two of them are going to be meant for each other and obviously there will be some “system failures” as mentioned in the quote I pulled above (a required-by-law caution emblazoned before every Envisioning session). My favorite parts were when Evelyn and Godfrey finally met up and realized how great they were together. Their mutual oddness is cute. It’s like watching Zooey Deschanel fall in love with a male version of herself. And some of those declarations of love are truly endearing.

But the characters weren’t allowed to grow enough. They didn’t develop into real people for me. They wheedled, they had implausible best friends (Evelyn’s pal, Dot, sounds a little awful), and even at the end I wasn’t sure if it was set up to be a happy resolution or very very sad (there’s an awful lot of medication involved?!).

Overall, great concept, but the characters were too dysfunctional, too weird to feel real in any way.

My Grade: C-


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