An unapologetic work of fiction that scintillates with wit and vigorous honesty scouring every page. Leo--an aspiring writer in his early-twenties living in suburban Massachusetts--is a discreet heroin addict suffering from the inanity of day to day life and the despair of artistic expression. His personal decay and desperation for relevance leads him to a man named Cole who has a plan to upset the established order of austerity and stoicism reigning the modern world: The #laughterchallenge. Together they plan to bring about a viral uprising of benevolence that will overcome the growing division and isolation tearing at the seams of society. As Leo becomes further involved in the movement he swirls into a downward spiral of fear and anxiety, as he struggles to cope with his addiction and depression.
A dark narrative with humor, intelligence, and a nervous tension driving the plot forward, "Slender Notions" is at once a visceral account of addiction, the struggle for artistic expression, and an inquisition into the pursuit of happiness.
The first 100 pages find the two POV characters wandering around Boston and Franklin, Massachusetts, independent of each other, woozy with drugs but also books and epiphanies. They write poems, muse on sundry topics (what it means to make eye contact; why the late Beastie Boy MCA didn’t contribute a blurb to a reprint), and hunger for something more, until they meet at a Cambridge poetry workshop. A plot eventually kicks in, involving a plan to attempt to inspire laughter and a focus on happiness around the world, but the key is the characters’ negotiation of every moment. Antonopoulos renders the consciousness of Leo (“a bored, anxious, twenty-three year old with no direction and a total lack of motivation to find one”) as a buzz bin of nerves, his overthinking only soothed by a fix, the voice of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, or, eventually, public approbation.
Raw and frank, the novel finds ugly beauty (Leo watches “the blood dance into the syringe like an animated matador’s cloth”) in its depiction of addiction but also ugly ugliness. As the characters’ campaign to spread happiness takes off, Antonopoulos proves both skeptical and hopeful, laying bare the contradictions and these men’s worst aspects while finding meaning in the mission. The novel’s onslaught—of language, games, authorial intrusions, intense disclosure—will by design prove off-putting to some readers, but enthusiasts of searching, daring literary fiction will find power here.
Takeaway: A sprawling lulu of a novel, centered on addiction and the liberating power of happiness.
Great for fans of: Sergio de la Pava, Garth Risk Hallberg.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: A-
"the author, employing a singular, ambitious writing style braiding spontaneous interior monologues with graphic narcosis confessionals, creates a distinctly original novel in which hope floats above all the dismal, rigorously portrayed compulsion." "In raw...vividly graphic prose, Antonopoulos' renderings of desperate, vein-popping drug binges are harrowing, and his descriptions of the frustrations of being trapped in a cycle of opioid abuse and withdrawal are palpably authentic. What makes the book unique is the mix of rapid-fire revelations, poetry, and...spontaneous interludes that readers of alternative fiction will savor."
"This is a captivating story that stands out in its originality. The first-person voice pulls the reader into the conscious minds of the characters, inhabited by wild thoughts at times. The lethargy they experience, the depression that tugs at the edges of their hearts, and the overpowering thought of living a meaningless life are conveyed through streams of consciousness and the visible effects of the mental struggles the characters face. Slender Notions tells the story of two misfits with strong psychological issues and the path they take toward liberation. The humor is biting, the imagery very strong, and the narrative voice gripping. The power of shared laughter is beautifully captured and the humanity of the characters is deeply explored in the narrative. Readers are pulled into the inner world of deeply troubled characters and, as they navigate that world, they find echoes of their own broken humanity. It is a hypnotic and hugely entertaining story by Nicholas Antonopoulos."
Here is the link to the podcast I taped with Kory French of "Book Talk". We discussed the Beat Generation, addiction, depression, the strugle to live a meaningful life, and dissect the pursuit of happiness in today's America.