BY SEAN CLARK

Author: Joe Pernice

2009, Riverhead

Filed Under: Literary

It Feels So Good When I Stop is your typical post break-up story. It’s a short novel, at times funny and at times a bit overwrought. Pernice turns some decent phrases, and the characters and settings are well rendered. It provides a nice diversion for a quick read, but ultimately the plot is too thin for this to be a memorable book.

The nameless narrator is on the lam from his new wife, Jocelyn. Married on a whim–as a band-aid to disquiet in the midst of an on-again-off-again relationship–he left her on the morning of their honeymoon and escaped to hide in a small town on Cape Cod. He takes up residence in a house owned by his sister, occasionaly watches his nephew for his sister’s ex-wife, and becomes friendly with an attractive, tattooed, wanna-be indie documentary director in the throes of mourning her dead son. The story of the narrator’s relationship with Jocelyn is told through a parallel, mostly alternating, plot line.

The humor is subtle and  can be effective in progressing the story and characters. Along with that, Pernice does an excellent job of connecting the two narratives: he presents some expert segues and transitions. Alas, it doesn’t really matter how well things are connected if they don’t go anywhere. While he occasionally flirts with some interesting ideas and plot points, Pernice never really follows them through. Instead the book more or less wanders, telling the stories of the relationship and the delay of its aftermath, with no real consequence or drive or direction. Despite being connected nicely, things here end in the same manner they begin, intriguing yet aimless.

The book is full of musical references that don’t really add much to the story. Referencing specific songs has long been a turn-off for me in fiction. I can’t help but read it as a crutch, as if the author is listening to or thinking of a song that evokes for him, personally, a specific emotion that he’s then incapable of expressing in words beyond just saying the title of the song and assuming readers will have a similar reaction.

I learned later, after finishing the book, that this book was written by a musician, and even has a companion music album offering covers of some of the name-dropped songs, performed by the author. (I was reading an ebook version from the library, so had no idea of this at the outset.) This knowledge definitely made me a bit more forgiving of the musical references, but nonetheless, the book would have been stronger had the emotonal attachments the songs were supposed to relate been offered through the writing.

All told, this is not a bad book, and by all means it’s a solid debut effort. I very well may have liked it more had I had the music to go with the book. But on its own, as an autonomous novel, it’s formless and lacking, hovering somewhere between novel and short story. It’s a shame Pernice wasn’t able to affix his ideas and characters to a more stable (and compelling) skeleton, but I still think there’s hope for him as a writer.  IFSGWIS is a lot like the two books I’ve referenced below. So if you liked either of those (or read my reviews and think you might like them) reading it is probably worth your while.

Similar Reads: This is Where I Leave You (Tropper), The Death of Bunny Munro (Cave)

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