The American Dream is over. No longer it is living in once so desirable suburbs. It is an illusion to lure the young and ambitious to the bone grinding jobs, draining their spirit and bank account. If in the end everything turns out to be pointless, why attempt at all? At least that is what Lindon, the main character of the novel “Play the Devil” from American writer Scott Laudati, thinks.

When considering coming-of-age fiction, the genre is dominated by J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” The story about youngster Holden struggling with middle-class comfort of his family balances the casual reading style and the heavy existential theme in a way only a skilled writer is able to achieve.

And it is impossible to look at “Play the Devil” without seeing the shadow of Salinger’s classic walking in its wake. Both plots depict the Odyssey of discovering manhood. The moment youngsters have to survive in the world without the shield of a middle-class American family. The biggest difference between “Play the Devil” and “The Catcher in the Rye” is the level of realization the main characters reach.

While Holden visibly matures throughout the book, Lindon stands still, like people who block the tram exit and don’t move until shoved aside. The fact that he speaks with a level of sarcasm and bitterness akin to a 60-years-old poet despite being a voluntary college dropout makes you raise a questioning eyebrow. Sucked into the pool cleaning business with his friend Frankie after being kicked out by his parents leaves him doing nothing but complaining. No matter if the pool is owned by a Russian smuggler or a Christian family, Lindon hates it with the same intensity. If that is a hint to his immaturity or attempt to make him an interesting character is unclear. However, since the book doesn’t seem to take notice of the smart irony, Lindon appears to play a swearing monk just to keep the reader’s attention.

The shortcomings of the main character are made up for by the set-up. World of pool cleaning in the hot New Jersey summer with short fused Italian is hilarious. Laudati proves to have a great sense of situational humor. His pool owner archetypes and the down to earth companion Frankie Gunnz keep the story afloat. It is also regretful that the writer doesn’t knock Lindon out and sink him in one of the pools for the rest of the novel.

An attempt at harsh realism is unfortunate for the novel’s plot. Many times the flow of the narrative gets interrupted with unnecessary amount of detail. The precise description of filter hoses ruins exaggerations like dead raccoon hanging from high voltage. This contrast gets novel stuck between witty comedy and shallow drama.  “Play the Devil” reads like a huge pile of micro-themes. They are nice on their own, but, it’s hard to fit them together. Still Laudati made a decent try on court dominated by Salinger, and if nothing that requires courage. Especially since it’s the author’s first novel.

Read Scott Laudati’s “Play the Devil” and judge for yourself.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker.