Books: “The Boys” by Katie Hafner
Katie Hafner is an author of significant accomplishment. She was a tech journalist for the New York Times, has written no fewer than seven books (including one about pianist Glenn Gould) and currently co-produces and narrates a series of podcasts called “Lost Women of Science.”
But her latest book, a novel called “The Boys”, simply flabbergasts me.
The protagonist is Ethan, a preternaturally quiet, nerdy guy who gets a customer service job for a tech firm in Philadelphia. He takes a liking to Barb, a co-worker, and overcoming his natural reticence, asks her out. Their first date is at a diner where they play every song on the jukebox at their table until the joint closes.
After a few years of dating, they decide to get married, take a cycling honeymoon in Italy, and they begin thinking about starting a family. Unfortunately this isn’t in the cards for them so they decide to adopt. Ethan and Barb soon become parents of twin Russian boys, so malnourished they look like they’ve stepped out of a Dorothea Lange photo from the 1930s.
What happens next will not be revealed, but let’s just say it involves a second cycling vacation in Italy at the height of the pandemic, and an ending so far-fetched I’m still baffled.
What the book does dramatize is something psychiatrists call “the anniversary effect”: as the anniversary date of a traumatic event approaches, you begin experiencing an echo of that trauma.
As someone who’s taken close to 40 bike vacations in my lifetime (no lie), I did appreciate Hafner’s insights into the idiosyncrasies of cycling tourists and the guides who cater to their every whim. But given the book’s less than credible plot, I feel there are better ways to spend your time. Like taking an actual bike ride.