You’d be hard pressed to find a comic book fan who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to have superpowers. Author James Maxey almost certainly has, and in his novel Nobody Gets the Girl, he posits what it would be like to wake up one day to discover you’re something more than human.
Richard Rogers is a suburban schlub with a stale marriage and a moonlight job as an amateur standup comedian. One day, via a time-travel error performed by the Professor X-like scientist Dr. Knowbokov, Richard ceases to exist. His life as he remembers it is gone, and so, to a certain extent, is he. Now invisible, inaudible, and intangible to anyone but the superpowered, Richard is rescued by Dr. Know, as he’s called, and put to work as the new superhero Nobody, alongside the doctor’s own superpowered daughters Sarah (The Thrill) and Amelia (Rail Blade). Their mission: stop the evil scientist Rex Monday and his own band of superpowered villains.
It’s a pretty good set-up, but I found the execution wanting. For one thing, all the jokes fall flat. Let’s just say that as a comedian, Richard is no Louis C.K. That he has even a modicum of success as a local standup comic, or that anyone finds him humorous or charming anytime in the story, feels utterly disingenuous in the face of his actual dialogue. And since everything about Richard as a nonexistent entity hinges on his personality, it all rings hollow and forced.
The romantic subplots are a disaster. When Richard gets together with Sarah it feels genuine because of Sarah’s history, especially with regards to her father, Dr. Know. Richard develops a codependent relationship with her, which also feels genuine considering he’s lost everything he ever knew, including his wife, and would certainly latch onto the first good thing that happens to him now. But then he turns on a dime and suddenly falls in love with Amelia, Sarah’s sister, for no discernible reason that is shown or expressed to the reader. Richard encourages Sarah to run away without him, which she does with no argument whatsoever. Then, when Amelia flies into a destructive rage after a particularly grueling battle with Rex Monday’s forces, he manages to calm her down…by having sex with her. Of course, she instantly falls in love with him because she never thought sex could be so amazing. Immediately afterward, he convinces her, too, to run away without him, which she agrees to do with, again, no argument. Either Richard’s secret superpower is the ability to break up with women without any fuss, or Maxey simple does not understand human beings.
Heartbroken and depressed, Richard spends a year invisibly hanging around motels and watching random naked women take showers. Why yes, he is the hero of the novel, why do you ask? Then, finally, he seeks out Sarah and asks her to help him find Amelia. The conversation basically goes like this. Richard: “I’m in love with your sister now, even though you and I were together for a long time. Will you drop everything and help me go find her? Oh, also, I may have killed your dad.” Sarah: “Okay.” See above about not understanding human beings.
The novel isn’t all bad, though. When Maxey is writing about the women’s tortured relationship with their father or the battle scenes with Rex Monday, the book shines. Maxey can be enormously creative when he’s not concerning himself with awkwardly written sex scenes or naked women in showers. One of the most strikingly surreal concepts in a novel filled with surreal concepts is Baby Gun, a giant baby doll with a gun for a head that rampages through Seattle at one point in the novel. Baby Gun is brilliant, and I wanted more of it. In addition, there are many great concepts regarding time travel, space travel, Schrödinger’s cat, and multiple dimensions to be found here. Nobody Gets the Girl could have been a great novel if Maxey had been able to resist all the weird sexual wish-fulfillment nonsense and focus on the strengths of the story itself. Instead, this reader was left dissatisfied and annoyed at the missed opportunity.
Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.