Journalist and armchair thrill-seeker Jan Richman gets a freelance assignment to write about the nation’s antique wooden roller coasters. Jan takes off across the U.S. to report on a fanatical sub-culture. This picaresque research junket dovetails with the wedding of her Tourette’s-riddled father, whom she hasn’t seen in years. Brazen and stingingly funny, Thrill-Bent zooms from Coney Island to New Orleans to the San Fernando Valley as our heroine learns how to be truly impulsive in a buttoned-down world.
Poet Richman s debut novel unfolds as a series of vignettes in which characters appear and disappear, to gather and scatter accordingly. Because of the book s nonlinear structure, the parts add up to far more than the sum, which may be the point. While much of the story is set in 2001, when the narrator, also named Jan Richman, is 39, many episodes occur 10, 20, or 30 years in the past. As a writer for BadMouth Magazine, NYC s Premier Cultural Crap Detector, Jan s new assignment is to report on roller coasters around the country set for demolition. Her final stop is in California, where she grew up, and where her estranged and widowed father, who suffers from Tourette s, is preparing to marry a much younger woman. The setting and narrator s age are both withheld for longer than seems necessary, which may frustrate readers as much as the many abrupt changes in setting. Yet the author s observational adroitness, skill with words, and clever use of cultural references mitigate those issues, particularly for anyone who came of age at a similar time as the narrator. Richman s (Because the Brain Can Be Talked Into Anything) fine language falters during the book s surprising sexual encounters, lurching between the funkiness of Tom Robbins in Still Life with Woodpecker and plain old purple prose.