Books

A Simple Machine for a Simple Man

Hey, Portlanders, Somebody Wrote a Book About You

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A Simple Machine, Like the Lever might be your journal. Yes, you, bike-commuting, navel-gazing, cigarette-smoking, alt-weekly-reading Portlander. Evan P. Schneider's subtle debut novel, the second title out from local indie press Propeller Books, is very much of its time and place.

Perhaps you are working a job you don't much care about. Perhaps you are picking up things from free boxes on the street and selling books you never got around to reading in a slow but earnest attempt to chip away at some looming debt. Perhaps you are trying to look better to the person you're dating. Perhaps your cats watch you drink whiskey in the bathtub. Probably you overthink the small things. It's okay. Nick Allander does, too.

At 31, A Simple Machine's misguided but sincere antihero is not as far along in life as he thinks he should be, but he's doing the best he can. Lacking a career, a car, a family, and any of the other conventional trappings of adulthood, he cares more about what people think of him than what he really wants out of life. This makes him considerate, in a backward, endearing sort of way. But his girlfriend Marie is losing patience as he prioritizes being a good neighbor over being a good boyfriend, and his boss wants him to think more about how he looks at the office than how he looks in the bike lane.

Not a lot happens in A Simple Machine. We aren't told much about where Nick has come from or where he's going. Much like you might write a journal, he gives us a series of ordinary moments in the present, by turns cute, mundane, funny, and pitiful. But they are told with such a refreshing honesty that you root for Nick even as you may question his decisions.

Self-consciously and without angst or sarcasm, Nick lives in the details. Narrating how carefully he rolls up his pants before a ride, explaining why he wears two pairs of socks instead of one, parsing the logic of his plan to win Marie back—the simple machine here is not the bike. The machine the title references is Nick himself, and by extension, his quiet, elegantly dispassionate story. VIRGINIA THAYER

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