5 Great Slacker Novels (Lichtman)

by Treehouse Editors

Johannes Lichtman

Adam Wilson’s hilarious debut novel Flatscreen (2012) follows Eli Schwartz, a young movie-loving slacker who decides to forgo college to stay at home with his mother. Problem: Eli’s mother soon sells their home to a wheelchair-bound, Oxy-snorting actor, and moves to Florida to be with her new boyfriend, Jeff Goldblum (not the actor). Tom Perrotta called Flatscreen “The slacker novel to end all slacker novels,” which is a bit of an exaggeration, but he did make this declaration in blurb-form, and recent years have demonstrated how out of control that can get.

Wilson’s clipped deadpan makes his novel, though not the slacker novel to end all slacker novels, still a pretty damn good read. Eli describes his first sexual encounter in recent memory like so: “She smelled like my mother’s perfume. Bit my earlobe, guided me inside her with her hand. Sheets were soft. I estimated thread count, ejaculated immediately.”

Here are five other great books about slackers.

Pride and Prejudice (1813): Elizabeth Bennet—eloquent, intelligent, strong-willed, and charming as she is—isn’t your prototypical slacker. But over the course of the novel, she doesn’t do much but take walks, write letters, and converse. Yet like any great slacker protagonist, she manages to make these idle activities totally fascinating.

Lucky Jim (1954): Kingsley Amis’ finest novel, which follows a self-destructive, sardonic, disinterested college professor, set the stage for great college campus novels in years to come, like Richard Russo’s Straight Man and Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. It also features “the best hangover scene ever written.”

Jesus’ Son (1992): In the short story “Work,” from the middle section of Denis Johnson’s seminal book, Fuckhead says, “Usually we felt guilty and frightened, because there was something wrong with us, and we didn’t know what it was; but today we had the feeling of men who had worked.” The “work” that Fuckhead, a heroin addict, and his alcoholic friend Wayne have just completed is stealing the copper wire from an old house. In addition to writing one of the most kickass books ever, Denis Johnson made a great cameo in the movie version as the guy with the knife in his face.

Out of Sheer Rage (1998): “My greatest urge in life is to do nothing,” Geoff Dyer admits near the end of his memoir of not writing a biography of D.H. Lawrence. Dyer perfectly describes the agony of writing and of slackerdom in general when he writes, “It’s not even an absence of motivation I lack, for I do have a strong urge: to do nothing…Except I know that if I do that I will fall into despair.”

The Epicure’s Lament (2004): “The beauty of human existence is the control we exert over our surroundings,” says Hugo Whittier, the cigarette-smoking, Montaigne-reading, misanthropic foodie at the center of Christensen’s funniest novel. “Nature is only attractive to me insofar as I can mow, cook, kill, or change its components to my liking.” Unfortunately for Hugo, his cloistered existence is interrupted when his brother shows up in the wake of a divorce wanting to stay with Hugo and talk about his problems. Hugo is not enthusiastic: “The lascivious pleasure I derive from phrases such as ‘mercurial quiddity’ might possibly be all that prevents me now from flinging myself downstairs to beat my brother about the face and neck with my bare hands, shouting invectives and heartfelt pleas to go away.”

Johannes Lichtman is the acting mother goose to the Treehouse gaggle. His work has been published or is forthcoming in The Oxford American and Barrelhouse. Online work can be found here, here, and here.