In 2011, Jarett Kobek released ATTA, both a political allegory and a humanizing, fictional biography of 9/11 highjacker, Muhammad Atta. ATTA was a fearless work, bringing humor alongside one of America’s biggest villains, while also sharply proposing the acts surrounding the Twin Towers’ fall were, in fact, an act of architectural terrorism.
Now in its second printing, BTW: A Novel is a continuation of themes found in ATTA: A satirical exploration of the multicultural experience in America, mixed-up between humor and heart. Now in its second printing, Jarett Kobek’s BTW follows a young college graduate freshly settled in Los Angeles. It’s in this setting that Kobek’s nameless protagonist finds himself where anyone in their early twenties would flock to in the city — Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, getting drinks at Hollywood’s Boardners, backyard “BYOB” parties — though it’s in these accounts littered with banalities where Kobek finds his strongest material.
Balancing two catastrophic relationships, identity politics, a perplexing pop culture, and Mehmet, an eccentric alcoholic father, BTW may drift between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard, but easily exceeds these confines by aptly examining what it means to be young and alive in America today.
Moving from Williamsburg to Echo Park, Kobek’s account of post-NYU life in the aughts (so generic it can barely be lived, yet alone retold) is surprisingly disrupted as primitive identities of religion and race surface among this young, well-connected, smart and otherwise evolved group of friends. In this, his second novel, Kobek’s writing continues to impress.
With a brave, droll and sharp eye for the absurdities of life, Jarett Kobek tells us about the struggle to win, to achieve – and the constant losing, wasting and drifting that follows. But BTW is not only a satirical tale of how fluid contemporary life is in the constant search for fame, divinity and true love, it’s also a story about a Turkish father and oracle, and his wandering American son. Jarett Kobek is the real deal.
It’s like Kobek keyed into John Kennedy Toole’s lost biorhythm and resurrected it amid the cosmopolitan absurdities of Los Angeles. Between Tabitha Brown, Khadija, the Butterfed Behemoth and the legendary Mehmet, BTW adds up to a funny and hyper-literate look at failing relationships.
Half of BTW is a coming of age novel about the narrator’s romantic entanglements, the most significant of which turns out to be with the city of Los Angeles; the other half is the real love story, played out between the narrator and his father. This father, who is by turns hectoring, profane, and tender in phone conversations and voicemail messages from his native Turkey, counts as one of the great comic characters in recent fiction, the sort of eccentric with whom you spend a minute in an elevator but can’t ever forget.
—WILLIAM E. JONES
“In a racially divided Los Angeles, love smacks up against the age-old hurdles of upbringing. He’s a hip, handsome Victorian scholar with a crazy Turkish father. She is gorgeous and Muslim, one of two ABB (American-born Bengali) sisters who remind him of Dorothea and Celia Brooke in George Eliot’s 19th century masterpiece Middlemarch.
Jarett Kobek’s deceptively artless prose responds like a flower to the sunlight of joy as to the cold rain of alienation. BTW is a book that could be as big as Bright Lights, Big City with the same general framework of a sharply experimental novel that yet can boast a big heart, a joke on every page, an overwhelming city magnificently delineated, and a handful of fascinating and all too real characters.”