The Great Sorrow of Being a Horny Loser in Brooklyn

Going Dutch: A Novel

“Coupling off in New York proved more frustrating and desolating than he had predicted.”

Richard is your typical twentysomething graduate student, waffling in writer’s block, anxiety, and loneliness as he fears he will run out of grant funding and die alone. Enter Anne: his brilliant (albeit depressive) colleague who begins “helping” him with his work. As she folds Richard into her priviled world, she also shifts their platonic relationship into one of romance, not aware Richard has always identified as gay. When Richard also sparks up a relationship with a charming young lawyer, Blake, the heated love triangle pushes him to confront his own truth.


Going Dutch. By James Gregor. Simon & Schuster. 2019. Paperback.

How did I get the book?

I was perusing The Provincetown Bookshop when I was there last month on holiday. It’s one of my favorite indie stores, and I especially love that they have a huge section of LGBTQ+ authors. I bought quite a few titles, but this one attracted me in part because Gregor is a Columbia MFA grad, like myself.

You can purchase the book for yourself here and support independent bookstores!

What did I think?

New York becomes its own character in the novel: a place where you’re ignored if you lack muscle definition and where brunch can prevent you from owning an apartment. For Richard, it’s also somewhere near impossible to connect. He’s envious of his friends whose online photos appear more anchored. “For such a supposedly solitary city, where everyone either was a lonely neurotic who lived with a dog, or blew most of their paycheck on therapy, analysis, or rent, New York could at times feel as if it was the exclusive domain of couples,” he notes. His questioning of the city—going from “Wasn't New York supposed to be the ultimate destination?” to “It was a city made for people with nowhere to be”—mirrors his questioning of himself.

Richard’s desire for intimacy rolls through the prose like fog. We see him want to slip into the gear that comes after hooking up with an online date, to have someone to wake up to on Sundays. He imagines this reality with Blake, enjoying how no one seeing them on their first date knows they’re basically strangers. Richard wants “to belong to that group of young men who were chosen” as opposed to those who “couldn't seem to get themselves into a relationship.” But this clashes with how he understands gay identity. “Outwardly Richard threw his support behind a bohemian deconstruction of traditional relationship mores…yet secretly he was old-fashioned and yearned for the stability and endurance of his parents' marriage.”

Whenever Richard gets close to intimacy, he simulatenously tries to maintain and demolish it with both Blake and Anne. With the latter, he’s also somewhat belittling. “Anne was earnest and reliable…even if, by some inconvenient evolutionary tick, earnest and reliability weren't as attractive as…a muscular physique,” Richard says. Despite how Anne knows and accepts Richard for his faults, he often writes her off as “a temporary solution to his immovable low spirits” and views her romantic pursuit of him as gallant but blind. This rather awful behavior from Richard also appeases him of any guilt in having the simultaneous relationships. “This was not lying,” he argues. “It was a kind of settling scores with his past, a long-delayed, retaliatory strike on the thinly populated years of his adolescence...He'd been waiting for the moment when he would be the one to whom everything was given.” But Richard can never really be that person, not with his “endless unreliability,” and knowing this leaves him eventually with an uncomfortable decision: change himself, or be doomed to be alone.

Final Verdict?

🌟 3.75/5 — Very Good

Gregor weaves a sense of intimacy into the level of detail used to craft Richard and the world around him. I adored the closeness we get to Richard’s thoughts, like being on a first date with someone and wondering what size their bed is and comparing Anne’s bushing when admitting she had a nice time with him to “her words [being] like pale legs exposed to the sun after a long winter.” The third-person perspective also allows the reader to see Richard himself with the same level o fcloseness, like how Anne calls him out for the wistful, acceding manner in which he says, “See you,” as if he doesn’t mean it at all. It brought me so directly into the scenes I felt like another member of the friend group in a highly pleasurable way.

Where I think Gregor could have done more work is with Richard’s longtime friend Patrick. We see that “like many of his friends in that period, Richard felt Patrick's life had begun to assume an increasingly solid romantic and professional structure, something his own just stubbornly refused to do,” and also that Richard is jealous of this. However, the perculiarities of their relationship deserved some more teasing out, especially because it is in their disagreements when Richard approaches growth, admitting he is scared to accept he might not know what he wants anymore. “[Richard] cared too much what Patrick thought,” we see. “What Patrick thought could paralyze him; what Patrick thought could reduce him to a state of incoherent paralysis.” Since he feels so real , I have to wonder how Richard might be different had Gregor exploited this powerful bond further.

Beyond the book.

Gregor is currently at work on his second novel, but Going Dutch is still getting buzz, particularly in his native Canada. In an interview last spring with The Book Shelf, he discussed how writing his debut took five years and many rounds of edits, but that he is hopeful the second book will go faster. He was also interviewed after making the shortlist for the First Novel Award in Canada.

However, I think one of the most charming chats I found with Gregor was way back in 2012, when he was still writing the book, and Brooklyn Based asked him to describe his last weekend in New York before moving back to Canada. It really brought some of the novel’s scenes to life.

See you again soon!

Rachel x

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