Rereading The-Fuck Up by Arthur Nersesian

Rereading is a special pleasure for those who have time to indulge in simplistic pleasures. I won’t live long enough to read 10% of the books I probably SHOULD read, yet there are a handful of books I go back and read a second, third, fourth or fifth time (I don’t think I’ve ever reread a book just once, so far).

I got my first copy of Arthur Nersesian’s THE FUCK-UP in the long-gone Tower Records in Boston.  I saw the scrappy little thing and the title got me.  It’s a novel about a young man living hand-t0-mouth in New York who makes his living mostly by working in sleazy movie theaters.  When not talking to his brilliant but unrecognized poet pal or trying to sleep with girls who won’t put out, he steals money from the till, cleans up the movie theater, and gets into mischief in New York.  That’s pretty much it for plot, but Nersesian’s first-person narrator has an endearing way of detailing his exploits–they don’t really MEAN much, yet this nobody doing nothing has so much fun with what he’s doing with his life.

There’s life, death, psychosis, sex and all that good stuff here, but what makes the book stick out is the hero’s constant motion while in a dead-end situation.  He philosophizes:

“As the components of your life are stripped away, after all the ambitions and hopes vaporize, you reach a self-reflective starkness– the repetitious plucking of a single overwound string.”

While Nersesian is a romantic, his hero doesn’t romanticize the cruddy life he’s living, even though he’s enjoying himself, because he doesn’t for a second believe his is a GOOD life, but he’s making the best of the situation, and succeeding:

“Perhaps the price of comfort is that life passes more rapidly. But for anyone who has lived in uneasiness, even for a short, memorable duration, it’s a trade-off that will gladly be made.”

When it comes to romance with a woman, our hero is his own worst enemy, trying to make it with an employee at work while not really getting why he can’t keep a steady girlfriend:

“I had grazed along the surface of her actions and made deep judgments. Rejecting someone because you couldn’t understand their love, that was a new one. The more I thought about it the longer the shadow of doubt stretched over all my conclusions. More often than not, things were as they seemed. But as I stared at her, she wasn’t as bad looking as I had once thought. I realized how all this time I had seen her the wrong way, and how one’s character affects one’s appearance. Although she wasn’t my type she was attractive. As I thought about her – the vulnerable intelligence, the violent honesty, and the fact that in the entire city she was the only one who took me in and fed me – she became more and more irresistible. Baited by an obscure beauty, trapped by an intense sorrow – all prior definitions had been overruled: this was love.”

These moments of clarity, when Nersesian’s character sees his place as it truly is and not how his clouded perceptions have been telling him it is/isn’t are the most rewarding parts of the novel.  The running around is fun, and it’s why I return to it, but these bits of truth inside this fast-paced romp are what make this a book that can be re-read with pleasure.