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Posted April 9, 2012
Don't be thrown off by the word "emoticons" in the title. This book is not an emoticon, that off- kilteringly sweet, but, ultimately, puzzling facsimile of human warmth and mischief. And rather than being the sort of thing that attempts to self- reference this current moment, much of Ethan Nichtern's second book actually looks back to 1998, a time when many now thirty-somethings can discover some digestible, even delicious, nostalgia in things as varied as mixed tapes, "random" Ithaca parties, the first truly broken heart, and, undeniably, malt liquor.
It's a novella that blows up an end of college moment for Alex Bardo and his four New York City childhood friends as they tumble through the lush green of a New England summer. At first read, it is funny, hard to put down and convincing. However, it is also something more, something not quite obvious at first, and something a little hard to put into words. It may be that it engages with Buddhism, and owning our lives, in a way that slips beyond categories of sacred and profane, heavy and light. It also may be the last section of the book, which consists of 11 great poems attributed to Alex Bardo, the novella's protagonist. By ending with a differently- dimensioned view of a character we are just beginning to know, we sense our own voluble, shifting, and, indeed, transitory identities which may be this book's sweetest gift.
Posted February 21, 2012
"Your Emoticons Won't Save You" is a delicious and dizzying reminiscence of a youthful, drunken road-trip with Alex Bardo and his friends as they pass a college summer in the swirling netherland between boyhood and manhood, between the twin burdens of idealism and cynicism. Narrated in Alex's voice, the novel invites the reader into the intimate world of male friendship, unafraid of the sweetness of those relationships, which our culture likes to bury so carefully in tales of machismo, alienation and disaffection. This story is a truthful antidote, filled with affection, love and warmth as the young men party unapologetically, reflect on their privilege, engage in the eternal search for a mate, and indulge in a nostalgic, play-filled visit to their childhood summer camp. Through Alex, the reader feels intensely that moment in life when a person realizes they have a Past to contend with, just as they see the Future bearing down from the opposite direction like a Mack truck with all its weight of expectation. He heroically threads the Scylla and Charybdis of past and future, holding onto the present through his writing, his constant touching ground through his feelings, and his willingness to just stay open to the longing and the uncertainty of it all. Throughout, Alex has a sense of humor, vulnerability, and a profound love for the people in his life that ultimately leads him to find friendship in the most important place of all... The novel is followed by startlingly beautiful poetry attributed to Alex Bardo, but written with sophistication and grace by a poet who has most definitely found his voice. A wonderful first novel! Can't wait for more...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 7, 2012
After reading Ethan's first book One City and attending some of his Buddhist classes in New York, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Your Emoticons Won't Save You. It is so readable and fun. The novella is like a beautiful, entertaining tribute to that magical, brief moment when you think you're grown up but you aren't really. It's wrapped in the warm embrace of teenage summers with a just-this-side-of-innocent perspective on the whole thing called adulthood, when the messes boys make of relationships with girls seem like the most important thing in the world, when mix tapes (ahhh mix tapes) are good even when they are bad, and when your parents think you're old enough to start learning about the darker sides of the family tree (and maybe you are, maybe you aren't).
Your Emoticons Won't Save you is written in this beautiful lyrical can't-put-it-down-style. Nothing like Nichtern's first book - which was more of a guide on how to navigate 21st century life from a contemporary Buddhist perspective - this is fiction, but still with a whiff of wisdom that permeates the characters lives and perspectives as well as feminist theory, amazing poetry, and a great driving game to play next time you're on a road trip. Good good stuff all around.