Mona Mireles, the unemployed young protagonist of Elizabeth Gonzalez James' hilarious debut novel, has plenty to moan about. She'd hate the pun in the previous sentence. Her own humor is incisive and biting, as when she observes of a pale man in Tucson, Ariz.: "No tan — practically a political statement in Arizona."

Mona used to be a contender, acing school and participating in a flurry of activities. Her trophies now gather dust inside the cave of defeat her childhood bedroom has become. She studied finance at the University of Arizona, became valedictorian, and was hired by Bannerman, a top Wall Street investment firm. But Mona graduated in 2008, Bannerman tanked the day she walked in to start her job, and her outburst about her change of fortune, captured by a TV reporter, has become an internet meme known as "Sad Millennial."

So, Mona's been publicly shamed, a Great Recession has gripped the country, and as Mona's mom puts it, Mona has become "Arizona's most dissatisfied customer."

Mona explains that after losing the Bannerman job, she had little choice but to retreat "back to my parents' suburban hacienda, reattaching myself to the familial teat through which flowed food and air-conditioned shelter."

A year into her job search, Mona has submitted 400 fruitless applications and she regularly sleeps in, smokes pot, drinks tequila and eats Doritos. But her mom is a high-achieving medical researcher and she prods Mona to keep trying, urging her to attend networking events or take a job at her friend's telemarketing call center.

Gonzalez James is skilled at orchestrating hysterical scenes filled with distinctive characters, such as a networking event at a chain Italian restaurant, where Mona encounters the same people she's already met at prior hobnobs, including a man who "sells used office furniture and comes to these things looking for leads on companies that are laying off," and a woman trying to interest people in a pill-selling pyramid scheme.

"These are the remoras, siphoning off the leftovers of our crumbling economy," Mona concludes before insulting several people, pointing out the misspelled word in the banner, and storming off.

Mona's short-fused crabbiness is great fun, but it interferes with her progress as problems mount, including tensions in her parents' marriage. Mona is positive the life she once envisioned for herself as an analyst is the only one she wants, but there are plenty of signs — including her stifled artistic abilities, her parents' dissatisfaction with their own lives, and her self-destructive habits — that she needs to reconceptualize her vision.

As readers may guess, the plot of "Mona at Sea" involves Mona getting her groove back, but getting there is all the fun, as the quips mount ("A black and white jersey dress with long sleeves screams 'daughter of a televangelist' "), the Arizona setting provides a distinctive backdrop for a first date spent shooting Saguaros, and Gonzalez James offers a winsome meditation on how to carry on living in the aftermath of disrupted plans that most humans can identify with.

Jenny Shank's story collection "Mixed Company" won the George Garrett Fiction Prize and will be published by Texas Review Press in October 2021. She teaches in the Mile High MFA program at Regis University in Denver.

Mona at Sea

By: Elizabeth Gonzalez James.

Publisher: Santa Fe Writers Project, 268 pages, $15.95.