In her debut novel, Esquire literary editor Adrienne Miller sets out to deliver a social comedy of Franzen-like complexity, only to stifle it in her own reflexive hipness. The Coast of Akron is mainly the saga of Lowell Haven, a “semi-semi-famous” artist and “champion liar,” whose entire life is an elaborate effort to disavow his midwestern origins—most notably by pretending to be born in London, the offspring of Josephine Baker. Along the way, he produces a suitably narcissistic series of more than 500 painted self-portraits with such self-consciously self-promoting titles as “Lowell Crucified with Cow Crucified Next to Him” and “Lowell Naked in Room with Empty Containers of Procter & Gamble Products.”
And this is where The Coast of Akron gets into trouble. The book is filled with many such arch, ultra-self-conscious flourishes of characterization and dialogue. And the reader gradually senses these flashy asides conceal an emotional vacuum where the novel’s heart should be. Beneath the bright cocktail patter of Akron, there is not only the whiff of smugness that often accompanies the irreproachably hip, but also a critical remoteness. Miller so strains to be sophisticated that she neglects to bring us in close. Here’s hoping that for her next book, Miller—a clearly gifted and witty writer—can relax a bit. She’s not in Akron anymore. She’s a New York novelist with a New York book under her belt. Her next novel—the assured one—could be the breakthrough.