THE BACHELOR

The unnamed 29-year-old narrator has returned to his hometown, Des Moines, after the breakup of a long-term relationship. His first novel has been published, and he has abandoned the draft of his second. While staying at his mother’s friend’s house, he becomes enthralled with the reality TV show The Bachelor and with the life and work of the poet John Berryman. As he reflects on art, love, reality, and relationships, the narrator gradually rejoins the world through platonic and romantic relationships with a series of women, including an ex-turned-friend, the house’s sexually liberated owner, a would-be poet, and a bookish recent graduate. When circumstances bring him to a housesitting job at a mountaintop California mansion, the protagonist discovers a tentative way forward from his self-created impasse. Some readers may question the narrator’s conceit of himself as an analogue to television’s Bachelor; are these many women solely present for the male hero’s enlightenment? Thankfully, Palmer’s female characters are interesting of their own accord, not merely in relationship to the young man telling the story, and instead of a bed-hopping serial conqueror, the hero, blocked, confused, and frustrated, can be a sad sack. Interspersed with the main narrative are reflections on love, vocation, performance, illusion, and reality occasioned by the high art of John Berryman and the mass culture of reality television. While these analyses may deter plot-oriented readers, these intriguing, amusing, provocative, and insightful passages contribute to the book’s success as a novel equally concerned with the heart and the mind.

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