90s New York novel written with hindsight: The Future Won’t Be Long by Jarett Kobek
The Future Won’t Be Long is a self-aware version of 80s and 90s New York novels that follows two friends over ten years of saving each other and striving for something resembling success in a disillusioned America. Baby is a gay guy fresh in New York from Wisconsin, where he meets Adeline, a rich kid art student with space for him to crash. They end up best friends and navigate a world filled with friends, disappointment, drugs, art, and East Village gentrification as America moves from the late eighties into the nineties.
The novel is fuelled by references to Warhol, Wojnarowicz, and Basquiat, Bret Easton Ellis, The Great Gatsby and Marvel vs DC. Though clearly similar to books by Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, by including them as minor characters and taking a modern perspective on the period (the narratorial voice, which alternates between Baby and Adeline, makes mention of 9/11) Kobek makes The Future Won’t Be Long feel like a novel of that period and a comment upon them. The characters engage with politics on race, gender, and sexuality, using the twenty years distance between the end of the novel and the modern day to give space for reflection. The main characters are flawed and their friendship serves as a reminder that books can be centred around a friendship and its ups and downs whilst engaging with the culture surrounding them.
At times it does feel a little too clearly another New York epic about art, drugs, and friendship, but it makes a good companion to other books of the year like Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City (for the art and AIDS background) and has an enjoyable self-awareness about the popularity of the straight white American male author even in the alternative culture of the 90s. The narrative style is fast-paced and fairly jumpy, likely to appeal to people who like books by the authors referenced within the narrative like Easton Ellis. Sometimes almost metafictional, Kobek combines 80s and 90s gay New York life, the literary world of that time, comic books as art (including being female in that world), and general American life and disillusionment to create an enjoyable and interesting novel about a period there seemed to be too many books about already.