A debut novel of love, narcissism, and ailing cattle
Idiopathy (?d?'?p??i): a disease or condition which arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown.
Idiopathy: a novel as unexpected as its title, in which Katherine, Daniel, and Nathan—three characters you won't forget in a hurry—unsuccessfully try to figure out how they feel about one another and how they might best live their lives in a world gone mad. Featuring a mysterious cattle epidemic, a humiliating stint in rehab, an unwanted pregnancy, a mom–turned–media personality ("Mother Courage"), and a workplace with a bio-dome housing a perfectly engineered cornfield, it is at once a scathing satire and a moving meditation on love and loneliness. With unusual verbal finesse and great humor, Sam Byers neatly skewers the tangled relationships and unhinged narcissism of a self-obsessed generation in a remarkable, uproarious first novel.
Byers s debut novel starts promisingly but bogs down thanks to a particularly unpleasant main character, Katherine. She, Daniel, and Nathan are three friends in London whose lives are going through a rough patch. Once a couple, Katherine and Daniel have broken up, and Nathan has emerged from a long stint in rehab. As Daniel settles into a cushy new job and a relationship with the sanctimonious Angelina, Katherine distracts herself with a series of meaningless affairs, while Nathan moves back in with his parents, to learn that his mother has become a self-help guru. Initially, Katherine is bright, sassy, and fun, but after she gets pregnant, she seems to snap, reflexively saying cruel things and behaving obnoxiously to everyone she meets. The minimal storyline, in which Nathan persuades his old friends to get together for one last evening s carouse, hardly helps the book, while a subplot about a mysterious illness striking England s cattle adds little. Byers can write scenes with humor and sketches some memorable supporting characters Nathan s parents cry out for more space but the work never recovers from the decision to afflict the heroine with what reads like a severe personality disorder.