Two hundred pages of this would be a taxing business if it weren't for the writer's relentlessly astonished and appalled reaction to his own condition. Beneath the ennui, he can't believe how hopeless and low he's gotten, how much he drinks, how the kids he went to college with have grabbed hold of some kind of life while he's still wallowing in nothingness. He renders up his self-horror with such energy and aesthetic care that it makes up for his rubbing our faces in the deep American muck.
The writer of Manifesto, whoever he is—and unlike many in his generation—seems dedicated to more than self-display or mere autobiographical grousing. (The book wouldn't be published anonymously if he weren't.) The careful crafting of voice, the astute borrowing of William Burroughs' cut-up method to mix up the hundreds of short episodes that compose the novel, the blending of techniques from film, from the French nouveau roman as well as pop, show us a painstaking artist at work. "I lived in vague sketches, half-finished episodes," he writes, "unfinished thoughts, not enough action, not enough conviction, not enough story, not enough love interest. Memory was fragmented, events jumbled, half-forgotten." Yes, that's Manifesto all over. But novels don't always need action or story or love interest or even conviction about life—as long as there's conviction in the art. This novel, and this writer, has it in spades.