In 2010, McSweeney's published Adam Levin's amazing debut, "The Instructions," a 1,000-page-plus novel about a 10-year-old Jewish boy who thinks he might be the messiah. Two years later, Levin has followed up that concrete block of a book with "Hot Pink," a slim collection of short stories.
Like David Foster Wallace, the writer to whom he is most easily compared, Levin experiments with form, digresses within his digressions, mixes registers beautifully, and never lets realism get in the way of a good time. In the collection's firststory, "Frankenwittgenstein," a sensitive father spirals toward depression as he tries to invent a Barbie doll with a working digestive system, or as he calls it, Bonnie: The Beautiful Body-Action Doll for the Self-Body Image-Enhancement of Toddling and Preadolescent Girls at Risk.
In the last story, a kickboxing thug engages in a meta-conversation about the Old Testament meaning of shibboleth while bending back the arm of some poor twerp. In the best story, "Scientific American," a sweet-tempered pit bull on walks around the block with his distracted owner "cast glances at the man as if to say, 'Look! These trees are really great! Don't forget about these!' and accompanied these glances with a kind of sigh that sounded like 'Fff!'"
Levin is so good at so many things (he's got to see the world awfully closely to render that Fff!) but he seems to have a special preference for characters who parse their own interiority with a near-pathological obsessiveness. He drags us into these characters' heads, into their relentless intra-cranial arguing and qualifications, and by doing so he weasels his way into our heads, so that while reading him we see the world and ourselves more closely, with warmhearted, empathic understanding.