“Early Work: A Novel” by Andrew Martin— Finding Oneself

Martin, Andrew. “Early Work: A Novel”, Picador, 2019.

Finding Oneself

Amos Lassen

Andrew Martin’s “Early Work” is a witty, silly, wise look at dealing with the early stages of life and love and creative and destructive urges.

Peter Cunningham has been looking for inspiration for his novel when he isn’t teaching at the local women’s prison, walking his dog, getting high, and wondering whether he should marry Julia, his college girlfriend, a medical student whose night shifts constantly remind him of his own lack of direction. But then Peter meets Leslie, a sexual adventurer on a break from her fiancé and he sees what he wishes to be and imagines himself as a writer of talent and nerve. During one  Virginia summer,  Peter and Leslie have a charged, increasingly intimate friendship that sheds light on the difficult questions about love and literary ambition.

This a novel about late-twentysomething writers and lazy-progressive creatives in different stages of existential crisis that ironically shows us “that one who romanticizes the agonized and drug-addled artist, prioritizing the lifestyle over any actual output, does so at his peril.” Martin shows us what it takes to succeed or fail in love or art. We are reminded of when, as children, life seems full of possibilities but is also scary.

Peter’s life in contrast to his medical student girlfriend’s life. His life consists of staring at a laptop, walking the dog, and drinking large amounts of booze. It is not until Leslie comes into his life that they become intimate that he begins to understand life.

None of the characters are appealing even though they seem to have incredible knowledge of culture. Reading this we realize that it is an elegy to manners and we see

how well-educated people will mess up their lives for a shot at living like scum.
Peter, the narrator, wants to be taken seriously yet his insights are silly and we also hear third person insights about Leslie and we see just how complex she is. We also see that she is the complete opposite to Peter.

The action moves from Virginia to New York City to Maine and, finally, to Montana whither Leslie goes to fill a non-existent teaching job.  A lot if the action takes place in bars and there is a lot of sex which is fine.


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