Things that feel fresh in Matthew Dicks’ “Twenty-one Truths About Love”:
1. The tale of a slacker book shop owner named Daniel who is trying to shape up his act is told entirely in lists — at least one a day for eight months.
2. Dicks doesn’t fudge it with intros or footnotes or anything.
3. It’s a love story (Daniel’s wife, Jill, is a teacher) but it’s also about why the guy is obsessed with lists, in the same way “Fleabag” is about why the title character constantly talks to the camera.
4. Its hero is a privileged white guy but at least he knows it.
5. Recurring themes, including a pregnancy, money woes and a developing friendship, give the novel momentum.
Things that work best in Dicks’ novel:
1. Once you get accustomed to the lists, it does feel like there’s narrative progression, even suspense.
2. Dicks is an amusing guy with a feel for life’s little annoyances.
3. Although he can be a jerk, you want the best for Daniel.
4. There’s quite a bit of variety in the lists, from shopping lists to items he needs for a robbery he’s planning, to “Overly-hyped Jewish Foods.”
5. The book has some delightfully quirky ideas, such as, “Run up to a couple on a first date and say to the man, ‘Listen to me. She’s the one. Don’t let her get away. I’m from the future. You have to trust me.’ ”
Things that don’t work so well:
1. Dicks repeats many of Daniel’s observations, sometimes for effect and sometimes seemingly by accident.
2. Many of the deliberate repetitions — Daniel’s obsessions with penises and his wife’s laundry habits — are tedious.
3. Others of Daniel’s observations are obvious (Who isn’t annoyed about the shelf life of avocados?) or dated (“Selfie sticks are banned.”).
Who should consider reading it:
2. Book store owners. Dicks relates to the idea of bibliophiles opening stores so they can have literary conversations, only to realize everyone wants the same two or three bestsellers.
3. Fans of this sort of literary trick, along the lines of Michael Thaler’s verb-less “The Nowhere Train” or Ernest Wright’s “Gadsby,” which doesn’t contain the letter “e.”
4. Expectant fathers, who’ll relate to Dicks’ apparently autobiographical detailing of his own neuroses.
5. People who like to read in short doses. “Twenty-one Truths” is divided by month, day and list. You can breeze through a month quickly, or you could just tackle a list or two and call it a night.
Twenty-one Truths About Love
By: Matthew Dicks.
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 340 pages, $26.99.