My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Justin Taggart doesn’t know anything (about being a loser). He likes girls and plays sports and has some friends. Unfortunately his fear of rejection outweighs his ability to deal with these well. Mostly there’s Sterling, the girl of his dreams who knows how to stop his heart by not knowing he likes her. Another thing is trying to get money with Adam, who’s rich anyway so it’s more about hanging out. As for Justin, he makes ends meet by mowing people’s yards with Adam, and sometimes by breaking into vending machines and selling late-night cable programming to peers (also with Adam). But it’s not like he doesn’t feel bad about it, since Jesus died for his sins. School is pretty terrible with all the work and practice, but there are a few people there worth mentioning. Anyone who picks up his journal will be in for something, if they feel like getting through a lot of grammar and spelling problems. They’ll probably end up seeing that they shouldn’t have looked at it anyway, because this is someone’s private anthem of girls, grass, and loserdom.
With its protagonist struggling to reach maturity and failing miserably through a series of misadventures, Narrative Loserdom has echoes of great novels like J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. This is a format where the protagonist intentionally does not advance and instead remains stuck in a case of arrested development that echoes the problems of the society that surrounds them.
The Good: The journal entry format aids in creating a well-characterized protagonist that is interesting and engaging. Justin Taggart is the best aspect of Narrative Loserdom.
A lot of the misadventures are humerus. Ryan Collins has a good, mild wit that is refreshing.
The Bad: Narrative Loserdom relies on the strength of the protagonist to tie its elements together. While Justin Taggart is a strong character with a lot of detail and lots of interesting internal motivations, he isn’t strong enough to tie the narrative together. Instead we get lot of little incidents that don’t go anywhere.
Justin Taggart’s failure to start a relationship with Sterling is one of the strongest themes in the book, but she hardly ever figures into any of the misadventures, so Taggart’s pinings for her ring hollow. Even if Taggart is never meant to get the girl, it would be nice to know more about his motivations for wanting her. Symbolically this may represent his failure to reach maturity, but I’d love to see it fleshed out.
A lot of the pop culture references went right over my head, but that may just be me.
The Bottom Line: This debut novel from Ryan Collins marks him and an author to watch. Despite its flaws, its intelligent design and wit show an author with a lot of potential.
About the Author
Ryan Collins was born in Texas in 1985. While attending Texas State University he earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise science with a minor in writing, and moved toward a post-graduate degree in computer information systems. In the company of a few unpublished short stories, Narrative Loserdom represents his first self-published novel. Ryan works for a local communications company in Austin, Texas, where he resides with his girlfriend and pugs.