Civil Coping Mechanisms, 254 pages, paperback, $11.66
For bluntness to work, it has to be tightly wrapped in honesty. That combination is what makes the work of authors like Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline so powerful and enduring. In Code for Failure, author Ryan W. Bradley delivers a narrative pulsating with sincerity and stuffed full of cynicism, sex, booze, humor, and ennui. The mix is not new, but it’s rare to find it infused with enough sincerity that it feels true, and that’s what sets this book apart from others in the same vein.
Code for Failure’s nameless narrator is a pump jockey who returned to his hometown in Oregon after getting kicked out of college. He hates the gig, but it pays the bills and simply staying there is the easiest thing to do. Interacting with a few attractive women is one of the best perks of the job, but it soon deteriorates into something darker and much more profitable. Between the booze, getting paid to have sex with a few customers, getting a minor pregnant, and systematically running away from promotions, he can’t help feeling trapped and dreaming of an escape. Ultimately, he has the intelligence to move on, but inertia is a very powerful force and stagnation has its own gravitational pull.
Bradley’s tight, smart prose pushes this narrative forward at a very enjoyable pace, but the pull-no-punches candor is what makes it shine. The narrator floats between spaces like a ghost at the mercy of a strong wind, but his self-awareness prevents him from being a victim of anyone but himself. From snorting blow in a public bathroom to servicing cougars for a little extra cash, he knows what he’s doing, knows everything is and has been his choice, but he accepts the fact that going with the flow is easier than going against it. Here’s a taste of that:
“Me? I was an English major. Why? Because no one pays people to read. The only real option is teaching, but I’d suck at that. I couldn’t teach a kid to tie his own shoe, let alone the meaning behind Emily Dickinson’s crap poetry. And ultimately that leaves me here, counting the cigarette inventory for the third time just for something to do.”
Many of us have lived in a shitty apartment, had an awful job, and dealt with periods of excessive drinking. Bradley throws some drug use and sex into the equation and offers an autobiographical narrative that’s at once unique and incredibly relatable. However, the last third of the book shifts into more positive territory and becomes a lesson about paying attention, being brave, and throwing yourself headfirst into anything that resembles a good opportunity.
At its core, Code for Failure is a novel about slipping. The narrator slips out of college, slips into a crappy gig, slips into prostitution, slips into statutory rape, and eventually slips into a relationship. Along the way, we’re treated to a funny, sharp story that’s a study in ennui and idleness.
This second edition of Code for Failure, published by Civil Coping Mechanisms, has been revised and redesigned and includes a foreword from Hosho McCreesh, a preface by Bradley, a new chapter, and closes with a suggested playlist. It’s also a fun, engaging read. If you’ve ever stayed in one place simply because moving to the next one seemed like a lot of work, read this.
Gabino Iglesias is writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.