“Couch” is a bizarre little novel, the story of three young men (“slackers,” as the blurbs tell us) who become attached to a couch, then become commanded or compelled to undertake a “Lord of the Rings”-style journey whose mission is to return this couch (an ancient and magical artifact, we learn) to its rightful place, and to reset the balance of the entire world. When I picked this book off the rack, I literally couldn’t believe that (a) someone had actually committed himself to write something so strange, a Kilgore Trout idea, and (b) that a publisher had actually committed to the project, also.
It felt strange to read this book, then, with no real expectations. After all, how am I supposed to know what to expect?
After reading, I’ll admit that I was a bit exhilarated by the experience: everything about “Couch” is just so different that other contemporary fiction. There’s an unassuming innocence here, a complete lack of pretension (there are moments in the story, as legends are discussed, that feel as if they are pulled from the pages of McCarthy’s “The Crossing,” except here they do not feel mind-numbingly dull and literary), and we move through the novel swiftly, always surprised by what comes next.
“Couch,” in the end, really doesn’t offer us a whole lot. At 280 pages, it probably drags on for 80 pages too long. The characters only seem to come into focus after page 150 (before that point, they feel like sketches, and their dialogue is rarely revealing), and the action sometimes feels under-developed, never detailed or cinematic, too easy. It becomes tough to visualize what is happening, many times. And the writing style is often lazy…we see glimpses of the writer Parzybok can be, with some vivid moments scattered here and there, but too often it feels as if he just got tired, or got bored with a scene and wanted to move on quickly. We have cartoonish exclamations throughout (“?!”), and “Dude!”-style exchanges that feel pulled not from real-life, but from an undergraduate creative writing course.
When it works, it works. It’s a breath of fresh air, all in all. But there’s little to make it truly memorable or important. Because of the bizarre premise (and indeed because of several passages in the book that started to make some interesting connections), I expected “Couch” to truly say something about slacker culture, about couch potatoes, about…well, anything…but in the end, the social satire feels so muted and distant that it never becomes resonant.