There Is No End To This Slope
By Richard Fulco
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
There Is No End To This Slope, by Richard Fulco, follows the life of one textbook salesman named John Lenza. He’s dissatisfied with his work and yearns to be a writer. Unfortunately, he hasn’t written anything besides a series of letters to his dead childhood friend Stephanie. As Fulco illustrates, there is nothing worse than a writer who says he’s a writer but doesn’t write. At best, he comes across as an insufferable sad sack, at worst, he becomes a pretentious douche and hypocrite. Like the title suggests, this involves a slide to the bottom.
John lives in New York City selling textbooks. His family fled the Big Apple a while back, heading for the more suburban (and more white) security of Staten Island. In this case, he replaced suburban anomie with urban alienation. In the novel, one relationship disintegrates only to be replaced by another relationship that eventually disintegrates. His crippling self-sabotage always circles back to the death of Stephanie, his high school crush. He simply can’t get past this, not even when his wife and friends tell him to let it go and move on. Even I was shouting, “Come on, John, let her go! Move on already!”
Set in the aftermath of September 11th, John remembers New York from the bad old days of the Seventies and Eighties. Back when the city was bankrupt, crime-ridden, but the music and arts scene were pretty cool. Now in the ensuing years following that terrible Tuesday, he rants against the creeping menace of gentrification. In this transitional period of urban development, he populates this world with junkies, racists, and proletarians. His landlord, Pete, is an Italian-American of the old school, meaning he’s racist against blacks. In the coffee shop he meets Teeny, a gay obese house painter and an aspiring playwright. John yearns after a big-breasted neighbor he sees exercising over in the next building. After his first marriage goes down in flames, he falls for and has an affair with a goth girl actress. Unfortunately, she also happens to be married and is unwilling to get a divorce.
In reviewing comparisons are inevitable and dangerous. The promotional literature likens Slope to Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller’s groundbreaking play from the Fifties. If only … While Slope is pretty good and it is honorable that Fulco chose to hit one into the bleachers with that comparison, it just isn’t the case with this book. Not to say that Slope is a lesser work, just more of a minor and more bizarre variety. The supporting characters are what got to me. Teeny is an endearing gay man, yet he talks like a gay stereotype. I’ve only encountered a gay-positive gay stereotype once before and that was in the Jason Mewes-Paris Hilton direct-to-video flop Bottom’s Up. (The movie is awful, yet in a strange way, compellingly awful.)
While we see these supporting characters through John’s skewed (and skewering) point of view, they first appear to the reader as broad stereotypes and caricatures. Despite Slope being a darkly comic take on working life in urban America, one would have hoped for more depth and nuance in these characters. We eventually learn more character back-stories, which are all heart-wrenching and compelling, but turning them into broad-stroke cartoons at the beginning taints the whole enterprise. As the saying goes, “Drama is easy, but comedy is hard.” The comedy is there, but it’s not pitch perfect.
I still recommend this book, with my reservations as explained above, especially to those with a beef against gentrification. It’s good for a laugh, but the comparison to Death of a Salesman oversells it.
Out of 10/8.5