Three Years with the Rat
By Jay Hosking
Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin's Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
The promotional material for Jay Hosking's Three Years with the Rat claims that the novel is "reminiscent of Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves," but as typical with this kind of stuff, that's simply a lie; in fact the one and only thing the two books have in common is that they both feature a space that's bigger on the inside than on the outside. Other than that, this book consists of not much more than a fairly pedestrian coming-of-age tale, plotted with the immaturity of a Young Adult novel and featuring dialogue that badly suffers from Joss Whedon Syndrome*, a book that hits all the notes you would expect from such a story (boy moves to Big City, boy makes new group of friends, boy gets into first serious romantic relationship, boy breaks up from first serious romantic relationship), only with a metafictional element holding the story spine together, in that it's the boy's older sister who convinces him to move there, and she and her boyfriend are both scientists who are working on some kind of shadowy project that supposedly supersedes the normal laws of space and time.
That's led St. Martin's Press to unwisely market this as a science-fiction novel, or at least a literary novel with strongly science-fictional overtones (thus the House of Leaves comparison on the dust jacket); but actual SF fans like myself will be disappointed by Three Years with the Rat, not only because the science part is dished out in such a poorly paced, haphazard way (smart readers can essentially glean everything they're trying to do in chapter 1, then the rest of the novel is a series of flashbacks where Hosking tries to slowly reveal the very information he fully showed in the first chapter), but because the eventual "science" that's revealed sounds literally like something a stoned undergraduate would come up with after a bullshit session in the dorm with their buddy**, then afterwards decide would make for a good subject off which to base an entire novel.
That's a huge problem here, because there's nothing compelling left once you discount the disappointing concept at the center of the book; and when combined with the immature writing style that's clearly being presented as something for grown-ups, that makes for a book that's hard to recommend and kind of a slog to actually read. I'm tacking on a few extra points to its score today anyway, as an acknowledgement that teens and Whedon fans will undoubtedly like this more than I did; but make no mistake, despite what St. Martin's is trying to peddle here, Primer this ain't.
Out of 10: 7.3
*Joss Whedon Syndrome: When dialogue supposedly meant for grown-ups is written in an overly twee and flippant style, which some people apparently like for some unfathomable reason, but for me is like fingernails down a chalkboard.
**"Dude, you know how, like, time seems to stand still when you're waiting in line at the grocery store? What if it actually does?" "Awww, duuuude." "And what if, like, you could control that time speed by putting six mirrors together directly across from each other in a cube, so that they're, like, all infinitely mirroring each other?" "Awww, duuuuuddde!" "And what if, like, what if you sat in the middle of that mirror cube, and like your entire past ceased to exist because of it, so then you could go back to your ex-girlfriend and undo all the dick moves that made her break up with you the first time?" "Stop, dude, stop! YOU'RE FREAKING ME OUT, DUDE!!!"