The Year of Endless Sorrows

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New York City, the early 1990s: the recession is in full swing and young people are squatting in abandoned buildings in the East Village while the homeless riot in Tompkins Square Park. The Internet is not part of daily life; the term "dot-com" has yet to be coined; and people's financial bubbles are burst for an entirely different set of reasons. What can all this mean for a young Midwestern man flush with promise, toiling at a thankless, poverty-wage job in corporate America, and hard at work on his first novel...

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The Year of Endless Sorrows: A Novel

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New York City, the early 1990s: the recession is in full swing and young people are squatting in abandoned buildings in the East Village while the homeless riot in Tompkins Square Park. The Internet is not part of daily life; the term "dot-com" has yet to be coined; and people's financial bubbles are burst for an entirely different set of reasons. What can all this mean for a young Midwestern man flush with promise, toiling at a thankless, poverty-wage job in corporate America, and hard at work on his first novel about acute knee pain and the end of the world?

With The Year of Endless Sorrows, acclaimed playwright and finalist for the 2003 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing Adam Rapp brings readers a hilarious picaresque reminiscent of Nick Hornby, Douglas Copeland, and Rick Moody at their best--a chronicle of the joys of love, the horrors of sex, the burden of roommates, and the rude discovery that despite your best efforts, life may not unfold as you had once planned.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Adam Rapp's The Year Of Endless Sorrows is an ultra vivid excruciatingly precise buildingsroman--a time capsule of a young man's evolution--a young man not entirely unlike Rapp himself. It is a story of roommates, and family and desire and the quest for meaning and definition while all the time bumping up against the ennui that is perhaps just the sensation of being alive and the daily absurd irony that is city life." --A.M. Homes
"Adam is passionate and energetic, he works hard and he's really mad about stuff, in his life and in his world. This is what fuels him. His poetic voice and his vision are all at the service of this driving determination to say what he has seen and felt. He never stops working, never stops listening, never stops. I'm not sure he sleeps. He may actually be two or three people, taking turns being him . . . I do not know how he does it. He is the single most prolific writer I know. You'd have to go back to Mozart to find somebody like Adam. And Mozart, actually, would be a good person to compare him to. Both playful, both angry, both geniuses, both capable of great beauty and great fury, neither a man to be messed with."

--Marsha Norman
"I love Adam's writing. His ironic bohemianism totally captures the scruff and tang of the great unwashed struggling literati. If Joyce Carol Oates and Charles Bukowski had a kid, he would be Adam Rapp." --Eric Bogosian
"Rapp . . . is a gifted storyteller. He makes demands on his audience, and he rewards its close attention with depth and elegance." --John Lahr, The New Yorker

Publishers Weekly
It's the early '90s, and an unnamed Midwestern aspiring writer, recently graduated, moves into an East Village apartment with three roommates: his actor younger brother, Feick (promptly swept out of his life by artistic success); his best friend, Glenwood (a skinny, self-loathing Columbia Business School student); and Burton Loach, a vagrant type just as happy to watch the fan blades as TV. The narrator's superiors at Van Von Donnell Publishing (where he has a pittance-paying, bottom-rung job) are waspy, shallow, depraved, and smugly articulate. In short chapters, YA novelist (Under the Wolf, Under the Dog) and playwright (Red Light Winter) Rapp lets the office satire rip, particularly of the boss with a predilection for farting (who takes a shine to him as prospective son-in-law material) and the children's book illustrator who delivers personalized erotic portraits on napkins to co-workers. In between novel writing, calls home to his frenzied mother and attractions to Ivy League office girls (as well as the physically flawless but destructive boss's daughter), he falls for aspiring actress Basha, a Polish emigre he has seen twice on the subway platform before running into her a third fateful time. This sweet, stagy bildungsroman never departs familiar territory, but it has lots of winning set pieces. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This is Rapp's first adult novel, but he has written numerous plays, six novels for young adults, and two screenplays, including Winter Passing. His play Red Light Winter won Chicago's Jefferson Award for best new work and was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize. Here, Rapp's young Midwestern protagonist blindly embraces New York, lands a publishing job, writes a novel, and eventually meets a Polish girl and falls in love. His roommates are wildly eccentric, and he finds himself in countless odd situations, all of which serve to develop the story. And the title couldn't be clearer. This new novel is a testament to Rapp's ability to write in any genre with the same lucid talent. His sentences are long, detailed, and strangely poetic. The prose is clever, funny, and homesick-sad, often in alternating sentences. It is as if Garrison Keillor's Wobegon Boy, John Tollefson, finds himself in the real New York City, with all its misfortune and melancholy but without the silly sentiment-because when this book is emotional, it is heartbreakingly true. Strongly recommended for all public libraries.-Stephen Morrow, Columbus, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The first novel for adults from an award-winning playwright and young-adult author (Under the Wolf, Under the Dog, 2004). This is a coming-of-age story set in Manhattan in the early '90s. The protagonist is a Midwestern boy. It hardly matters from which city he hails. Lawrence, Green Bay, Dubuque, Joliet, Altoona: They're all the same, in that they're all not New York. The hero's eagerness to shed his provincial persona is such that he demands a rechristening to celebrate his fresh start in the big city-his new name is "Homon," short for "Homunculus," and it's the only name the reader learns-but he remains conspicuous due to his lame wardrobe, his polite earnestness and his sheer corn-fed size. Homon does manage to land an honest-to-goodness New York job, though, when he takes an entry-level position at a big publishing house. He also gets an appropriately crappy apartment in the East Village, complete with the requisite bad roommate. Homon is, then, a particular kind of Everyman. What distinguishes his story from others like it is his creator's gift for language and sense of humor. When, for example, Homon goes to a secondhand store to visit the typewriter he sold to pay the Con Ed bill, he says: "The woman behind the counter watched me the same way a grammar-school principal might watch children throwing snowballs in an out-of-school parking lot." Later, Homon describes his date with an assertive young woman thusly: "We walked like we were lab partners and she had all the results." Indeed, whether he's writing about office-party food, the fate of mid-list authors in a recession or the smell of Manhattan in the summertime, Rapp runs the risk of exhausting the reader with imaginativelyembellished details, but it's not necessarily a bad kind of exhaustion: The accumulation of offbeat observations occasionally produces a certain existential hilarity. A familiar story originally rendered. Agent: David Halpern/Robbins Office Inc.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374293437
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 12/26/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Rapp is the author of numerous plays, most notably Nocturne (Faber, 2002), and Red Light Winter (Faber, 2006), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as six novels for young adults. He lives in New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Part One


We're from the Midwest mostly. We're from Lawrence and Davenport and Dubuque. We're from Kankakee and Oswego. We're from Griffith and Joliet and Mechanicsville. Platteville and Green Bay. And Altoona and DeKalb and Clinton.

We're from Joplin.

The words of the cities themselves conjure certain smells and songs. Eddie Rabbitt's "I Love a Rainy Night" and lightly buttered yams. Thirty-Eight Special's "Hold On Loosely" and the Fourth of July gunpowder drifting below the exploding purple girandoles at the speedway. Anything by Joan Jett and the sulfuric fetor of the steel mill. Stevie Nicks and the rancid, spoiled-fruit stench of the oil refinery.

Or they simply evoke the feeling of a rotisserie fork turning hotly in our stomachs.

Most of us grew up in well-heated, well-lit homes. Gabled houses with garages cleaner than grocery stores. Flagstone-laid, pinecone-spotted paths leading to the front porches. The black spruce bending toward the neighbor's Tudor like it's keeping a secret. A licorice-red swing set in the backyard. A small ceramic man with a Scottish hunting cap protecting the mailbox--stoic yet somehow noble.

Our towns have water towers. Great steel orbs and graffiti-smeared globes and flying saucers on stilts. An enormous iron aspirin tablet next to the high school. The Tin Man's inverted head with MAQUOKETA sucks in running spray paint.

ELKHART in all of its unscathed, civic propriety.

ELVON looming over several acres of unharvested wheat.

Some of us were raised on farms. We can talk about silos and combines and grain elevators and detasseling corn. We can talk about counting the beans and the fever itch of hay and how it can drive you to rinsing your arms with gasoline. We can talk about cow tipping and crop blight. We can talk about the pig doctor and how he swallows the viscous, worm-like, bluish membrane after castrating the hogs--how he plucks it out of the mutilated genitals with a pair of homemade forceps.

We can talk about highway driving and the solemn, solitary beauty of a fodder-filled silo receding in the distance; how it's there for miles and then suddenly disappears as if the horizon imagined it and then reclaimed the thought with a god-like whimsy.

We can talk about fishing.

A few of us grew up in trailer parks, and our rooms had lots of paneling. Infinite, impeccably grooved, pecky-pecan paneling. Long sheets of synthetic wood that we could drive a thumbtack through. Paneling that splinters and warps and chafes with a kind of sinister eczema. Paneling that is made to be unmade.

We are long-boned because we were well fed. We ate potatoes and barbecued beef. We drank milk by the gallon--two percent, with the royal blue cap. Some drank it whole.

Most of us have skin the color of a paper towel lightly dabbed in Wesson Oil.

In the winter, with the aluminum taste of frigid air in our lungs, we can look out over tractor-scarred fields of frozen mud and know exactly who we are.

We were raised with tornado culture and good dental histories.

When we came to New York we left behind pets. We left behind coaches and priests. We left behind friends who went to work for insurance companies. We left behind half-dead cars and VCRs and laminated baseball-card collections. We left behind two-lane, mercilessly straight, never-ending highways.

We didn't say goodbye to everybody. We couldn't possibly have said goodbye to everybody.

Some of us had never eaten garlic. To most of us, basil sounded like a prison town in southern Illinois. Ginger was that girl on Gilligan's Island. Some of us thought cappuccino was a cup of chino.

Most of us have some variation of blond in our hair. We're spaniel blonds. Rhubarb blonds. Cottonbox blonds. Peach blonds. We're soda-cracker blonds and bloodhoney blonds. We're Formica blonds.

We generally look like the people walking through the Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport on any given day.

We are Catholics and Protestants and Lutherans and Presbyterians and Episcopalians and we can recite the prayers by rote. Even though most of us have vehemently denounced our faith and want to be (or pretend that we want to be) Atheists and Marxists and Anarchists, we can still recite the prayers.

And at a pretty good clip, too.

The sofas back in our Midwestern homes smell like beef Wellington and forest rain and something not unlike the woodchip mulch used to bed gerbil terrariums.

We smell things on the street that remind us of the old pullout back in Manteno. The love seat back there in Fond du Lac. A vinyl record on the Second Avenue sidewalk between Fifth and Sixth can do it to us. A feather duster from the vintage shop on First between Ninth and Tenth can do it to us. The inside of an old bowler hat--something from an altogether different time--even that can do it to us.

Certain things always seem to send us back.

We have strong middle names like David and Matthew and Esther. Biblical names that followed us from the fishfly fogs of the Mississippi and the broken-bottle shores of Lake Michigan and the muddy, mosquito-misted banks of the Des Plaines River; middle names that quietly pursue us like private, invisible birds.

We have snapshots of our dogs. That's Waldo with a ten-gallon hat. This one here in the hand-knitted sweater is King, and look at the subtle pattern change there, see?

We keep our driver's licenses hidden from each other. We seal them in boxes and stash them in breast pockets. We slide them into old books and deny our late-eighties hairdos. That wasn't my hair. That wasn't my Ogilvie Home Perm.


Most of us work in book publishing. We work with lots of older white men who roll up their sleeves and wear seamless khakis. Jacks and Bobs and Todds. And Blakes and Steves. Men who find a kind of sacred nonchalance in the way they wear their ties.

And we work with lots of white women, too. Maryannes and Kathies and Pamelas.

We make sixteen or seventeen thousand dollars a year, but we tell each other eighteen or nineteen. If we make twenty, that's way too much. We survive on slices of pizza and ramen noodles. We eat a lot of flaccid hot dogs straight off the wagon.

We walk to work or, rather, we bound there like power hikers, in great vaulting astronaut strides. We voom to work. We alakazzam to the office in half-ruined shoes.

A few of us walk through the precarnival hours of St. Mark's, bank across Astor Place, and cut diagonally through Washington Square Park, where as early as eight-thirty a.m. the Rastas are out whispering smoke into your ear.

Smoke and sess.

It's good, Mon.

The pigeons have schizophrenia.

The office is fluorescently lit and the carpet incredibly gray and each employee has a cubicle that smells not unlike the inside of a bowling shoe. At some point, they (the folks from human resources) employed the term workstation as a replacement for cubicle. We call the big ones bull pens and the little ones Skinner boxes.

The housekeepers shellac the Skinner boxes to the point of a high, almost vinyl gloss. The sad chemical smell of lemon cleaning fluids creeps into our clothes and settles in our hair and a hint of it can be detected if we inhale deeply into the center of our pillows.

The iteration of Skinner boxes has a museum-like quality.

We are exhibits.

Earnest Midwesterner Comes to New York.

Will work for anything.

He's in publicity. She's in editorial. He tracks the bellwether titles and circulates an in-house report. She collates book briefs and talks to agents on the phone. He's in mass market promotion but wants her job in telephone sales. She's in production and walks around with these cardboard-pizza-box-bottom-type things called "mechanicals."

Co-op advertising and review easels are terms we use. Back order and print run and flap copy are terms we use.

Excerpted from The Year of Endless Sorrows by Adam Rapp. Copyright © 2007 by Adam Rapp. Published in December 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 24, 2009


    I would give it zero stars if I could.

    I picked up this novel because I have lived in NYC since the early 1990s and hoped the book would have something interesting to say about that time. It did not. Honestly, this book was so terrible that I can't even believe anyone published it. The main character and his life are BORING, we never really care what happens to him because he gives us no reason to. The city is never brought alive as a character -- a huge opportunity wasted. There seems to be no plot or story -- the author just meanders around, never saying anything. A complete waste of time. Emptiness.

    I am a person who keeps every book. However, this one was so bad that I got rid of it as soon as I had finished it. I have never read anything else by Rapp, so I have nothing to say about the author on a larger scale.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2007

    A 'Year' to Remember

    Adam Rapp¿s work has always been marked by polar extremes. On one hand, Nocturne provided a verbally intoxicating and heart-wrenching study of loss and redemption. Conversely, Treblinka, an unintentional V.C. Andrews homage, quickly disintegrates into kitsch with its gothic clichés. Sandwiched between is the award-winning Red Light Winter ¿ a play that captivates audiences with its gravity-defying verbal gymnastics, yet leaves the aftertaste of a hollow exercise designed to generate ink. No matter what, Rapp¿s work always leaves readers with profound respect for his prodigious talent. Thankfully, The Year of Endless Sorrows often showcases Rapp at his best. The novel can be categorized as a transplant slacker version of On the Road. The story, which reads like a string of spit-shined journal entries, follows the travails of Homon, a raw college graduate from Dubuque, Iowa, who moves to New York in the early 90¿s. During the year, Homon navigates through the harsh lessons of early adulthood. In particular, Homon must adapt to hygienically-challenged roommates, deeply flawed superiors, judgmental mothers and catastrophic romances. While this storyline has been tilled often, it feels fresh in Rapp¿s hands. From its hyperkinetic opening on Midwestern mores to its poignant denouement, The Year of Endless Sorrows is a flurry of jaw-dropping imagery and dead-on insights that rarely disappoint. In fact, Rapp¿s writing is so inventive that the occasional misfired metaphor becomes all the more glaring. Better yet, this story is quite comical, often earning knowing laughs from its no-holds-barred character sketches and prescient one-liners. In particular, I believe Rapp writes about bottom rung office newbies ¿ and their cross-currents of anxiety, apathy and ambition ¿ better than anyone. While Homon is the archetypal starving writer, Rapp is careful not to elevate him into another self-conscious Stephen Dedalus. Unfortunately, the narrative has its challenges. As always, Rapp indulges his love of all things scatological and penile. His waves of imagery sometimes distract from the storyline, while his incessant references to New York locales would be better served in Fodor¿s. The novel is also too long ¿ becoming like a welcome guest who stays a day too long. This is particularly glaring when Homon¿s burnout roommate sends him a 12-page freebird letter ¿ a hackneyed device that recalls Matt¿s credibility-straining monologues in Red Light Winter¿s second act. Thankfully, this novel is free of the faux nihilism that pocks parts of Rapp¿s work. Unfortunately, the pedestrian storyline ¿ sans Homon¿s tragic relationship with Basha (an expatriate actor who was seemingly recycled from Nocturne) ¿ doesn¿t warrant a weighty title like The Year of Endless Sorrows. Despite these flaws, this novel should serve as a primer on descriptive writing for years to come. It is an unusually intelligent and sensitive coming of age story that I recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2011

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