Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Tandem by Andy Mozina

In the opening pages of Andy Mozina’s Tandem, the satirical, darkly comedic glimpse at ethics and redemption, Mike Kovacs, a recently divorced economics professor, kills two bicyclists while driving drunk and then removes the broken pieces of his car lying near the crashed tandem bike, applies windshield wiper fluid from his trunk to eliminate the paint marks on the bike, and drives off into the night toward the safety of his home in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You want to hate him, but Mozina presents him as a complicated human being you need to understand. It’s rare that a novel makes you want to know more about someone otherwise portrayed as a villain.

Reading Mike’s inner thoughts feels slightly voyeuristic, yet the narrative compels you to learn if Mike will decide to turn himself in and his self-absorbed justifications, while abhorrent, demand your attention. “Nothing could be done. They were completely and irrevocably dead.” “He dimly grasped that his instinct for self-excuse was limitless. He gave himself a sort of credit for this dim grasping. As Dave [his friend] had explained the distinction years ago, psychopaths were not self-aware; he was, at worst, a sociopath. The only thing he knew for sure was that he didn’t want to go to prison and lose all his money.” 

Mike soon learns that the girl he killed is the daughter of neighbors, people he knows, and he’s drawn to the victim’s mother Claire. “If she were not married and if he had not killed her daughter, yes, he would be perfectly happy to ask her out. But she was married and he had killed her daughter. And yet . . .”

And yet, they do connect as Claire’s marriage suffers under the weight of the tragedy and Mike seems to be the only person who understands how Claire is suffering. Their magnetic attraction seems inevitable, while also being absolutely impossible and ridiculous. Only Mozina’s skill at enveloping the reader in this original dark comedy could make such a plot device work. But, work it does, pulling the reader in and refusing to let go. 

As Mike wrestles with his conscience, he visits a Catholic Church, confesses his crime, and seeks advice. In Mozina’s pitch-perfect, wry rendering, the priest tells him he isn’t a therapist and angers Mike by stating: “You want absolution, but you don’t want to be a member of the church.” Mike leaves the confessional enraged that the priest won’t advise him. He considers going to priests in different parishes, something of “A Pilgrimage for Penance.” “Maybe he would only visit churches named after Mary, where the outlook might be more merciful.” 

In this Edgar Allan Poe meets John Irving novel of just over 200 pages, Kalamazoo College literature and creative writing Professor Andy Mozina deftly exercises a form of Poe’s use of unreliable narrators via both Mike and Claire and thus closes the distance between their faults and the reader’s ability to connect with them. He also reminds this reader of John Irving in his demonstration of ironic situations that disrupt and ruin lives. 

Summing It Up: Read this short, sharp novel to find yourself unexpectedly empathizing with a drunk driver who kills a young couple and rationalizes his need to escape prosecution because it’s unlike anything else you’ll encounter.  Follow Mike Kovac’s thoughts as he attempts to determine how to make amends and lead a better life. Observe the effects of the accident on the families of the victims. Fall under the spell of the dark comedy that thoroughly captures you despite your misgivings. A must for book clubs!

Rating: 5 Stars 

Publication Date: October 24, 2023

Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet, Book Club

Author Website: https://andymozina.com/

Author Events and Readings: https://andymozina.com/events-and-readings/ 

What Others are Saying:

"[A] delicate web of intrigue. Fans of Kimberly Belle, Alex Kiester, and Greg Olear will appreciate Mozina's ability to blend the drama of a domestic thriller with the heartbreak of loss in many forms: death, divorce, and distance."—Booklist

“Reading Tandem is an education in crime, punishment, and the dark side of human compassion —and somehow it also manages to be hilarious. Mozina’s signature hapless characters, through no fault of their own foolish decisions, can only manage to make difficult circumstances worse as they move from guilt to absurdity.  A psychological tour de force!” Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Once Upon a River and The Waters and a finalist for The National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

“Tandem is gripping, propulsive literary fiction at its finest. When economics professor Mike Kovacs causes a deadly accident, leading to an unconscionable crime, we’re ushered into a morality tale of the highest order. Mozina shows expert control over a shocking range of moods and motivations. By turns sad, frightening, disturbing, haunting, and and—most surprisingly —funny, this novel wrecked me in all the best ways. Tandem is at times difficult to read, yet even more difficult to stop reading.”   —Darrin Doyle, author of The Bear in Aisle 34

“A glimmering masterpiece about the slippery nature of truth and redemption,  Tandem is at once riveting and contemplative, moving and hilarious, devastating and tender. It does what the best novels do: forever change how we see the world. —Erica Ferencik, bestselling author of Girl in Ice, and Into the Jungle The River at Night

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