Jeremy Rider’s novel, Fade Away, or The Artist, is a not-quite-coming-of-age story about a disconnected young man spiraling into depression.
Out of college and on his own, Jimmy Miller notices in the course of his usual entertainments—parties, weekend drinking binges with friends, and mountain biking in the park near his house—that the world around him is starting to fade away for longer and longer flashes. Jimmy feels increasingly unmoored and upset as he recognizes his inability to connect with the people around him: the male friends he either envies or feels contemptuous of, the women with whom he is unable to relate beyond sexual attraction, the boss stifling his work.
But when the mentors he consults, including rabbis and psychologists, suggest tools that will help him, such as reconnecting with his family, returning to the art he once loved, or deepening his Jewish faith, Jimmy steers away from self-examination and instead enjoys losing himself in “creativity or insanity”—he isn’t sure which.
The novel has a strong sense of autobiographical fiction (perhaps this is the reason for slips where the character is addressed as Jeremy). This feeling is enhanced by its setting in Washington, D.C. in 1994 and the faintly nostalgic tone coloring Jimmy’s aimless pursuits and near-misses with women.
The prose is rhythmic, balanced, and precise, and feels capable of a heftier story than the ultimately uninspiring struggles of a young man with many privileges and no sense of purpose. Jimmy’s “fading” episodes offer compelling imagery for the “lostness” he feels, but the ending shies away from delivering the emotional maturity that Jimmy—and the reader—seem set up for.
In sum, Fade Away is a finely crafted narrative with a puzzling emptiness at its core. In the end, the story’s appeal will rest on how well the reader identifies with a middle-class 20-something struggling to grow up.