Friday, September 19, 2014

The Indifference League, by Richard Scarsbrook

It's reunion weekend for the Indifference League at the Hall of Indifference, and the Not-So-Super Friends are all going to be there.  Well, with the exception of Psycho Superstar, who crashed his motorcycle, killing himself instantly.  So begins The Indifference League, Richard Scarsbrook's light-hearted trip down some kind of memory lane.  Starting at the end of high school, this mismatched group of friends has gathered irregularly at Mr. Nice Guy's parents' house on a long holiday weekend.  This weekend, celebrating their collective thirtieth birthdays, is destined to be the last.

Scarbrook's amusing characterizations draw on common archetypes, fleshing out those people we knew in high school and college and throwing them together to see what sparks might fly.  The math nerd, the flirt, the rich girl, the goody two shoes, the jock, the people-pleaser, the alt girl all come together.  While their vastly different view points makes for good late-night conversations and makes their finding common ground more interesting, I failed to see why they were all friends.  Maybe I'm too cynical, but it seems to me that, for the most part, people congregate with and form lasting friendships with others with whom they have much in common.  I was never convinced that, given their fundamental differences, the Indifference League members would become close friends, much less friends who would continue to get together for holidays a dozen years after high school graduation.

It also bothered me how sex-obsessed these characters were.  With each other, with random people, in their own minds, etc., each seemed to be a bit more carnally oriented than ordinary people.  Granted, their escapades and couplings were part of the story, but I began to suspect that the author's own fantasies interjected themselves here, rather than an honest rendering of the thirty-something generation.

None of this is to say that I did not enjoy the stories Scarbrook tells of the League's weekend together, and the back stories of how they came to be there.  Like much fiction, sometimes you just ignore the absurdity of the set up of a story and enjoy the ride.  These are silly people, getting themselves into silly circumstances and love triangles.  Ultimately, The Indifference League is about a group of friends learning about themselves and each other, and taking steps to move on to the next phase in life.  In some cases, it means making a drastic change from the phases that have come before.

On a couple of blurbs of The Indifference League refer to the movie The Big Chill.  "A Big Chill for Gen X and Gen Y . . ."  "The Big Chill meets Marvel Comics . . ." The comparison is apt.  I don't remember much about the movie (I was 14 when it came out.), but there is plenty of similarity.  I will give Scarsbrook the benefit of the doubt and view this as an homage rather than a rip-off.  He puts a pretty hilarious twist on one major, climactic plot point that I remember from The Big Chill.  I won't give it away, but it has to do with conception.

The bottom line: The Indifference League is a humorous, sometimes thought-provoking mix of old friends and new ideas.  In Scarsbrook's archetypal characters we can surely find bits and pieces of ourselves.  In their lives and interactions we can find lessons about friendship, love, and moving on.  Or, at the very least, we can have a laugh at their expense.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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