I read three novels by Jarett Kobek over the past six days, and though this one (the second of the three) doesn’t answer the questions I’ve screamed every time I’ve read one of his books, i.e. “why isn’t this guy the most famous writer in the English-reading world?” – in fact it made me scream that even louder, with even more frequency, with even more desperation – but, reader of TriumphOfTheNow.com, Kobek’s later novel, and the one I read next, did answer my question and though the answer wasn’t perhaps satisfying, it was, at least, an answer of sorts.
The Future Won’t Be Long (201x) was Kobek’s follow up to I Hate The Internet (201x), and was published by Penguin Random House, like a big famous novel. It has a garish, yet mid-twenny-tens hip, cover, it is a beautiful, evocative, funny, personable, wise, romantic, witty, dark, vibrant, loud, nuanced and – crucially – fun novel, yet is not considered a decade-defining novel, is not a book you see on the shelves of every literary hipster, and is a novel I’ve only ever seen outside of my hands as a book available as remaindered stock; The Future Won’t Be Long, one of the greatest novels published in the last decade that I’ve ever read, is not considered a classic, is not considered a must-have, a must-read, a must-anything. It is, tbf, historical fiction (we must, we must, we must, call 30 years or so ago “history”, regardless of the fact that doing so pisses off Gen Xers (the worst generation)), published at a point in time where the “end of history” had ended and people were much mich more interested in the present (a time period Kobek covers in breakthrough hit I Hate The Internet and in 20xx “explains why he isn’t a megastar” Only Americans Burn In Hell) than they ever had been before, but – really, let’s be honest – the real reason The Future Won’t Be Long isn’t everywhere is the fact that it’s too queer, too scuzzy, too posh and too optimistic for it to find a space within the contemporary canon.
This is a novel about friendship, more than it is about anything else. And who has friends, right? A friend is just an acquaintance you haven’t lost touch with yet, right?. A friend is just a lover you haven’t fucked for the last time yet, right? A friend is just a-
Friendship just feels like hope, like hair, like effortless skinniness, like presuming things will be ok, like ignorance, like not having smartphones, like thinking one day, eventually, you’ll be less sexually repressed, like thinking you’ll get to live a life you want, like believing that there is fairness in the status quo, that representative democracy is a valid form of societal organisation, that technology will (may) save us, that there are human experiences so good that they make the beige everyday worthwhile, that-
I was young, y’know? And though I didn’t go to the big city and fuck, I did go to the big city and party, so it’s not total bitterness talking here. I just suppose I come back to come back to come back to that blunt idea: not much worth doing happens when you’re over 25.
It opens with a fresh-faced 18 year old Mid Westerner – only ever referred to as “Baby”, short for “Baby Baby Baby” – moving to New York City after the violent death of his parents. He swiftly falls in with Adeline, a moneyed Los Angeles transplant studying at art school. Together they party through university and the eighties, fall in and out of love (not with each other, of course, this is a better novel than that), make bad and good decisions, fall out over money for a bit, then both end up becoming moderately successful writers and finding a warm sense of purpose in life.
It’s a beautiful, beautiful novel, and it made me cry over and over and over again. There are really sad passages, but real fucking beauty, too. Gorgeous prose, swift summaries of the high concept parties they attend and the genre fiction they produce as their creative careers flourish. Kobek emphasises the importance of human connection, the pleasures of youth and the joys of maturity. There is offstage violence throughout, but these feels like more of a reflection of lived experience during the “war on drugs”/”war on the poor” etc era of NYC governance. If the police were regularly assaulting mentally ill people, it is an inevitability that those victims would cycle on that violence. That is how abuse works, right?
This is, hands down, the absolute best example of a particular type of novel I’ve ever read. Imagine if Infinite Jest had included women that were actual characters; imagine if American Psycho wasn’t so smug; imagine if The Secret History wasn’t about nerds? So, yes, the type of novel I mean is 1990s American novel. Yes, it was published and written 20 years later, but who fuckin’ cares? It’s like all those books, but it’s better than all those books. I’m not saying those books are bad, but I am saying that The Future Won’t Be Long is infinitely better than Infinite Jest. I mean, that’s an exaggeration, infinity doesn’t exist, but it’s much better. So much better.
I don’t understand why The Future Won’t Be Long, a simpler, less cynical, less bleak, novel than all of Kobek’s others wasn’t a smash hit. I suppose, though, if it had been, then his later – much more interesting – work wouldn’t exist.
Like with visual artists learning perspectival and other trompe l’oei tricks before being able to subvert traditional modes of expression, Kobek has produced a flawless realist novel, so now he doesn’t need to again
Yes, this is by far his least experimental, least ambitious, least Kobek book, but it’s a fucking masterpiece. This is a book literary normies (tho not actual squares – too much sex and drugs) could (and I’m sure eventually will) love.
This is the kind of literary tradition Kobek is not working within elsewhere in his oeuvre, and this may be the New Yorker type writerly mainstream’s loss, but is a massive gain for pricks like ne who still have to live in this never-quite-collapsed-enough world, but want to read books while they do so.
Kobek tossed this one out in between experimental works of potent and significant creativity, and it’s better than most novels that much less interesting people spend much less time on.
It’s a flawless realist novel, which makes it a flawed piece of literature, buuuuuut whether you like “normal” books or the wildly important literary oeuvre of 🙏 Jarett Kobek 🙏 , then this one is a book you should really get hold of. It truly is the best of both worlds.