Excuse Me for Living Review
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Though I’m not opposed to the occasional brainless entertainment, I prefer books and movies that cleverly written—the kind that employ smart humor instead of cheap gags. As it turns out, though, clever comedy is exceedingly difficult to get just right. All too often, you’ll find a book (or movie) that tries to be clever, only to end up feeling just a little bit off—like author Ric Klass’s debut, Excuse Me for Living.

After attempting to throw himself from the George Washington Bridge, young recycling heir Daniel Topler is sent to Live Free or Die, a posh rehab clinic in the Hamptons. As his parents deal with their marital issues, Daniel is left in the care of Dr. Jacob Bernstein, who threatens to have him sent to Bellevue Hospital if he doesn’t play by the rules and join the doctor at his elderly men’s group twice a week.

Unfortunately for Daniel’s recovery, LFOD is just a short walk from his hard-partying friend’s house—and it’s not long before Daniel is sneaking out to enjoy the girls, booze, and drugs found at Brucie’s notorious parties. But then he meets Laura, Dr. Bernstein’s daughter, and she begins to inspire him to turn his life around.

Excuse Me for Living isn’t really a new or original story. For the most part, Daniel is the typical Poor Little Rich Boy. Ignored by his parents, he has too much money and gets too little attention to have any kind of ambition in life. Instead, he slacks off, going from one party to the next, not taking anything very seriously. Eventually, though (as expected), he finds a good woman who makes him want to do something with his life for a change.

Daniel isn’t an easy character to like. He’s sarcastic and condescending, and he treats everyone around him like staff. In Daniel’s eyes, pretty young women should be throwing themselves at his feet—and everyone else should be kissing them. Of course, he does grow and change by the end of the book—at least a little bit—but it’s a challenge to stick with him that long.

The awkward writing, meanwhile, makes it even more of a challenge. Though the story is supposed to take place in the present day, it often feels as though the characters have been teleported in from a time long past. All of Daniel’s friends, for instance, call him “Dandy”—a word that, as far as I know, few twenty-somethings (or even thirty-, forty- or fifty-somethings) ever use.

It feels as though Klass is trying too hard to sound hip and clever—and as a result, the dialogue feels antiquated and unnatural and the characters feel fake. They say things that no normal human being would ever say—at least no normal human being living in the twenty-first century. And the whole thing comes off like a vaudevillian act written by Diablo Cody. At times, it’s so convoluted—the sentences so long and rambling and wildly hyphenated—that it’s often difficult to wade through them. It just shouldn’t be this much of a challenge to read a light contemporary romance.

Released simultaneously with the film adaptation, Excuse Me for Living would probably make a better movie than a book—since screenplays are bare-bones, stripped of the superfluous stuff. So if you’re in the mood for a light story about a troubled rich kid finding love, you might want to check out the movie instead of the book.

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