Benjamin Disraeli once commented, “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” Some advice that may be implied in that: “Adapt or fail”—a recommendation that can feel survival-of-the-fittest cruel, especially when the changes in question threaten to render you irrelevant, at best.
Changes of a threatening variety definitely conspire against Bob Boland, the protagonist of Louie Cronin’s funny, perceptive, and–dare I say–hopeful début novel, Everyone Loves You Back. A stubborn (and cranky) yet pragmatic rebel, Bob charts an entertaining course between thumbing his nose at these changes and adapting to them, so much as he is willing to do so, on his own terms. For that reason I consider him, and this novel, an inspiration, especially in these dark political times.
On the home front, Bob, a longtime resident of a down-on-its-heels house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is facing growing pressures from an unrelenting drive toward gentrification. (As one example of such pressures, a well-to-do neighbor and her arborist [!] try to convince Bob to take down some maple trees in his yard, ones they claim are invasive species that are dooming the carefully selected, and no doubt expensive, trees in her own yard.)
On the job front, new management at the radio station where Bob works pulls the plug on the nighttime jazz show for which he has long served as engineer, pushing Bob and the show’s former host, Riff, into the dayshift, and into a format that’s unfamiliar to—and far from beloved by—both men: a talk/interview show aimed at boosting ratings. It doesn’t help that Bob has never gotten along with the colleague chosen to cohost the show, and that she’s engaged to the station’s new overlord, Anthony DiTucci. Worse, if Bob and Riff don’t succeed on the new show, it’s all but certain they’ll be shown the door.
When DiTucci takes the helm of the station and offers the first suggestion that, in Bob’s words, “jazz dinosaurs are on the way out,” Bob makes this observation about him, and himself:
The novel is full of funny, frank, and perceptive passages like this one, which help us sympathize with Bob’s situation and share his sense of alienation from the forces of change all around him. The novel is also a great comic study of workplace conflict and dysfunction. In certain ways, it reminded me of Joshua Ferris’s darkly funny workplace novel Then We Came to the End. If you enjoyed that book, I’m fairly confident you’ll find Everyone Loves You Back an entertaining ride. (I should also point out that Louie Cronin is uniquely qualified to write from the perspective of a radio engineer and producer, having worked in the radio business for many years, including a ten-year stint producing “Car Talk.”)
I don’t want to reveal the particular ways in which Bob rebels against, or grudgingly adapts to, the changes foisted upon him, but I will say how much I admired the book’s exploration of how it can be possible to respond to change while not compromising on what’s most important to us, including seemingly far-fetched dreams.
As a writer, I was inspired by one of Bob ambitions: a years-long effort to complete a book-length manifesto about the new generation of jazz players who, according to Bob, are “killing” the form instead of reviving it. It turns out that this book has promise, as does Bob’s unlikely romance with a Harvard dance instructor who, along with other residents of Bob’s neighborhood, is trying to keep an old and storied Japanese maple from being uprooted by a condo developer.
In short, Everyone Loves You Back is just the kind of light-in-darkness read I need right now. For me, it is also a reminder that, at certain times, we may need to look to ourselves for hopefulness—by searching for and, if we’re lucky, finding real connections with others and by pressing forward despite what sometimes feel like long and discouraging odds.
Would My Pick be Your Pick?If you're interested in ________, the answer may be "Yes":
▪ Stories about work, especially darkly comic ones, like Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
▪ Any works that explore the consequences of gentrification
▪ Jazz or any works that explore its influence and importance
▪ Stories about rebels