Jim Krusoe, Toward You

Publisher: Tin House Books

2011, 224 pages, paperback, $15

bob, the first-name-only narrator of Jim Krusoe’s intense and increasingly off-kilter novel Toward You, is an ordinary guy living an ordinary life in a modern-day America where almost everybody is mildly insane.

Bob spends most of his days and nights alone. He makes a living reupholstering furniture. He takes late-night walks through his neighborhood and watches nature programs on television. (The premises of these shows are a running joke in the book: in one called Along for the Ride, a camera is attached to the back of a grizzly bear as it hunts and forages for extended periods of time.) He lives in a bland suburb that’s never precisely located—it could be anywhere. He and his neighbor have been known to throw accumulations of loose and noxious trash into each other’s yards. Oh, and, in his spare time, Bob works on an invention called the Communicator, a contraption that he hopes will someday allow him to speak with the dead.

Everything’s normal in Jim Krusoe’s fictional city of St. Nils until it’s not.

One day, a car hits a dog in front of Bob’s house. The dog staggers toward Bob’s front door. Bob and the dog share a moment of powerful emotional transaction before the dog dies on his porch. Bob looks at the collar and sees that the dog’s name is Bob. Bob, the man, buries Bob, the dog, in his backyard. The bizarre series of events that follow show Bob, the man, what it means to make contact with both the living and the dead.

A contemporary sense of aimlessness and isolation runs through Toward You. The oddballs who show up unannounced on Bob’s doorstep are as lonely and full of longing as he is. Yvonne is a cash-strapped single mother who loses her only child and considers a marriage of convenience so she can have a roof over her head. Dennis is a violent sociopath whose loss of a beloved pet leads him to start a series of fires around town. Steadman is a cop who stops Bob during his midnight walks, desperate for conversation and understanding. (The tour that Steadman gives Bob of an after-hours police station where officers read novels to inmates and bring out throw pillows for extra comfort is a hilarious set piece of subverted expectations.) Then there’s Dee Dee, a girl who dies from the bite of a rabid dog and occasionally narrates from a sightless and claustrophobic afterlife.

As a narrator, Bob’s tone is detached—he’s basically a depressed guy—and it’s this remoteness that make his motivation feel a little weak at times. I’m not sure readers experience his desire for Yvonne as much as we’re told that it’s still there after all these years. Likewise, we’re not given the opportunity to develop an imaginative awareness of why Bob needs to communicate with the dead. More often than not, it’s treated as a given that this is what he wants.

Despite all of the free-ranging absurdity in Toward You, Bob’s loneliness grounds the book and makes it feel appropriate to this day and age. In an absurd and isolating world, Bob tries to make contact. His methods are often unorthodox and inefficient—he admits to “missing a few steps in the old reasoning process”—but in his haphazard attempt to be in touch with “every living thing as well as all the dead,” he ends up becoming an unassuming hero for our times.

—Brett Bisceglia