In his new book, Look Down, This is Where It Must Have Happened, Hal Niedzviecki at times assumes the malaise of his characters seamlessly: “I’m a mortgage broker who works from his basement home office. I can find a lender suitable to your needs. A lot of people go to the bank. Don’t go to the bank.” The protagonist in “Real Estate” addresses the reader as if she had just met you at an uncle’s retirement barbecue.
However, Niedzviecki’s short-paced narration too often meanders back into the exhausted clichés of the last decade: “Peter usually stopped at Starbucks for a coffee and a muffin. In class they had talked about the corporation as a tool of patriarchal cyborg capitalism.” In “Special Topic: Terrorism,” he repeatedly draws attention to the fact that in the abundance-of-information age, everyone’s a kind of hypocrite, but the message is ultimately lost in the insufferable exchanges of characters who can’t seem to think for themselves.
From God’s unappreciated assistant in “Doing God’s Work” to the repressed mortgage broker from “Real Estate,” Niedzviecki’s characters are weighed down by deferred redemption. God’s assistant plans and prepares his revenge, the broker calls a mysterious man about a mysterious girl, but the ends of both stories are withheld, almost as if with a shrug. Still, Niedzviecki’s wit, at the peak of its subtlety, has echoes of early Bret Easton Ellis: “Next year [Peter] would graduate. He’d never had a girlfriend. He was thinking vaguely about a career in law enforcement.”