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The 10 Best Slacker Novels According to Adam Wilson

Though we’re sure he’s no slouch himself, Adam Wilson sure knows a thing or two about the intricacies of slackerdom. His debut novel Flatscreen, which hit shelves this week, is the hilarious story of professional slacker Eli Schwartz — perpetually stoned, uncomfortably doughy, cheerfully lewd — who is forced to face up to certain facts of life (and required to put on pants) when his (parents’) home is purchased by an aging, sex-addicted ex-TV star in a wheelchair. As you might imagine, hijinks ensue, most of which are relatively unflattering to our friend Eli, but he manages to slouch and whine his way towards a satisfying conclusion. Since he’s the expert, we asked Wilson to tell us about his all-time favorite literary slacker novels — click through to check out his (also very funny) list, and then be sure to tell us about your own preferred misanthropic reads in the comments!

The New Testament

Wilson says: “I’ve always thought of Jesus Christ — the New Testament’s long-haired itinerant carpenter and struggling magician — as the first literary slacker He drank a lot of wine and never wore pants; he was into holistic healing; he could be preachy and moralistic, but was a good guy deep down. And to think they strung him up for it. Society’s attitude toward slackers hasn’t softened much.”

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Wilson says: “As far as I can tell, Hamlet is just a dude who lives at home, hates his stepfather, pretends to be crazier than he actually is, talks to ghosts while tripping, acts creepy around girls, and spends long hours pining for a mentally unstable love interest who’s only going to break his heart.”

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

Wilson says: “Oblomov is about a lazy rich kid who hardly leaves his bedroom. In fact, Oblomov doesn’t even leave his bed for the book’s first 150 pages. Oblomov’s absolute dedication to slackdom is to be admired, if not necessarily imitated; when he marries his landlady instead of the hottie Olga out of sheer stubborn laziness, it’s hard to justify the means for the end. Goncharov too, was a total slack monster, at least compared to someone like Chekhov, who wrote stories, novellas, and plays, all the while making his living as a doctor. Goncharvov wrote three novels. He started a fourth, but gave up halfway.”

Bartelby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Wilson says: “Bartelby the Scrivener is another slackophiliac who let his slacking get the best of him. Things were all good for a while; he had a job, but never did any work, and his boss just kind of put up with him. But a good slacker knows to quit while he’s ahead. Bartelby just kept on with his ‘I prefer not to’ business until he was dragged to prison and he starved to death. Ah Bartelby! Ah Humanity!”

After Claude by Iris Owens

Wilson says: “We tend to think of slackers as long haired white dudes who listen to grunge music, but Harriett, the narrator of After Claude, was chain-smoking, shit-talking her ex, and wasting her life before Kurt Cobain was even born. One of the strangest and funniest novels to come out of 1960s New York. The book ends with Harriett caught in a comically unsexy orgy that definitively shows us the difference between hippies and slackers.”

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley

Wilson says: “Slackers may not be athletes, but they can be serious sports fans. Take Frederick Exley, whose obsession with New York Giants running back Frank Gifford stayed strong through years of drinking, lazing, and slack-induced institutionalization. When the electro-shock wore off, Exley was still chilling, pounding brews, and cheering Gifford on. A Fan’s Notes is a notable entry into the Hall of Slackdom for introducing an important slackerly accessory: the davenport. It’s sort of a couch, sort of a bed; the perfect piece of furniture.”

English, August: An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee

Wilson says: “Another outlier in the Slack-Lit canon, English, August has been called the ‘Great Indian Slacker Novel.’ By whom? I’m to lazy to find the source. But I prefer to think of it as simply a great novel and one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It’s about a city kid who winds up with a shitty clerical job in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but get stoned and masturbate.”

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte

Wilson says: “Kurt Vonnegut said that in America, ‘high school never ends.’ It’s certainly true for Lipsyte’s narrator, Lewis Miner, who still thinks about the ladies of his high school’s jazz dancing club when he masturbates. Miner’s life may be pathetic, but his wit is keen and his tongue is sharp. ‘But fret not your frittered looks, ex-Eastern Valley girls, your time-slung slack and crinkle. When I exercise my right to self love I run a sort of projected aging program in my mind, picture you vixens in your necessary twilight, your bodies dinged up by babies, gravity, regret. I figure it’s only fair.'”

Grab onto Me Tightly As If I Knew the Way by Bryan Charles

Wilson says: “Set in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1992, Charles wonderfully captures that odd moment when slacking became part of the larger cultural zeitgeist. George Bush the first is prez and Saddam is going down, but our narrator Vim Sweeney, is more interested in rocking out on his strat, getting laid, talking shit about the douchey jock from his high school (who happens to be Derek Jeter), and listening to a little album called Nevermind. Written in 110 short chapters, Charles’ ADD style paved the way for many books that followed.”

Ovenman by Jeff Parker

Wilson says: “My favorite slacker novel of the post-Lipsyte era, Ovenman is the funniest book you’ve never heard of. When Thinfinger is a drunken pizza chef with a shitty band and full-sleeve tattoos that look like green blobs of nothing. He has a habit of blacking out, and waking up covered in self-written post-it notes that fill him in on his drunken escapades. One day, he wakes up to realize he’s robbed his own pizza parlour. Fuck.”