"Conquistador Of The Useless" by Joshua Isard

I wonder how many novels get passed over because the editor simply doesn’t bother to read the entire thing. That’s the risk a writer takes whenever submitting his/her work to a particular publisher. Like it or not - most of the time, anyway - one either grabs an editor’s attention or they don’t and because of this there are probably many great novels with wonderful stories that are passed over because no one bothers to stick to it and read the entire manuscript. I have to be honest and say that at the very beginning of this novel, I was getting a little worried. Not that it was badly written (it’s definitely not that) but because of the main protagonist - Nathan: a married man in his early 30s who has recently married his longtime girlfriend and bought a house in the Philadelphia suburbs. And not just any 30-something protagonist. A “hip” 30-something protagonist who seems to be, at the beginning of the novel, struggling with the aging process and the move from wild, hip teenager to hipster college student to on the threshold of adulthood. He is working a job he doesn’t particularly have a passion for (but doesn’t hate it) and, due to his change in life status, reminisces about his “cooler” days when he listened to grunge bands and was hip to what was new and happening during the 1990s. When he meets his next door neighbor’s young hip daughter - who is pretty much like they were at her age - it only seems to trudge up the nostalgia and Nathan starts to feel the greying a little. As he tells the reader of his former life, all the right bands and cultural references are checked and this, more than anything else, had me thinking what was in store was one of those “greying of Generation X” stories. However, I’m one reader who sticks to it, knowing from experience that just because something doesn’t begin in a way you may assume it might, doesn’t mean the story is necessarily going to go where you think it will.


Nathan is at a crossroads in his life. He has to deal with the responsibilities of firing employees at his job, getting their new home set up, and deal with his very supportive and loving wife’s biological yearnings. Nathan isn’t quite ready to cross that threshold and meeting his teenage next door neighbor only serves to remind him of a past that is long since gone but has yet to fully acknowledge it. There’s the mild “generation gap” issues that come across when conversing with his young neighbor and a whole questioning of where his life is ultimately going as he watches his young, hip self slipping further and further into the past. As Nathan struggles with these issues, his wife is “nesting”, getting their home ready to be a home, looking forward while Nathan keeps looking backward. Soon after, Nathan’s childhood friend Mark turns up, returning from roaming around the world mountain climbing (Mark is a very successful computer software engineer who did very well for himself). You can immediately see that Nathan envies who he views as his more free living friend and it is when Mark invites him to travel to Nepal to climb Mount Everest that the whole story turns and things get very interesting.


Nathan wants to do it - for reasons he isn’t quite sure of - but his dilemma is now how he possibly could with a full time job and a wife who would never in a million years allow him to just go run off for ten weeks on a crazy whim like that. But something in him pulls him towards the mission: one last hurrah before finally settling down and becoming an adult? To prove something to himself about who he really is? Or perhaps to overcome the most difficult obstacle many young people face as they begin getting older: acknowledging that fact it and accepting it with grace. As he contemplates this decision, his life suddenly goes awry by a simple friendly gesture: the lending of a Kurt Vonnegut book to his young neighbor as well as some old songs from Nathan’s teenage years, both of which freaks out the young girl’s Christian father as well as begin earning a heap of suspicion as to his motives behind the act. Add to this the fact that he earns a promotion at his job, making his decision even more difficult.


Eventually, Nathan decides to join his friend on his Nepalese adventure and despite his wife’s deep reservations, eventually comes around to supporting him because she knows Nathan must do what he has to do in order to find whatever it is he seeks. As soon as he leaves for Nepal with Mark, that’s when this novel becomes incredibly interesting, moving away from Nathan’s obsession with his past and all things “hip” and brings him face to face with life. What happens on this excursion must be experienced by the reader. I won’t spoil that here but what occurs is what makes this novel the thoughtful, serious minded novel it is, moving the story away from hipster recollections to a far more serious subject matter. Yes, there are plenty of pop cultural references to satisfy those who grew up in Nathan’s era (I’m much older than the character - already somewhat “old” when he was a teenager) but surrounding all this is a more philosophical story with a lot of meat to chew on once the reader reaches the end. A wonderfully written story with a lot of room for interpretation about aging, growing up, overcoming obstacles and most importantly, the realization of what is truly important in this life and how what once seemed so important suddenly becomes very trivial. A fantastic read and highly recommended.

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