Book review: Viewer Discretion Advised by Angus Stevens

(courtesy Shawline Publishing Group)

For something so hyped and lauded and revered, life certainly fails to deliver much of the time on its great promise.

We all enter it expecting the absolute best and on an epic scale that defies imagination and hands over the keys to all the good and perfect things of which we abundantly dream, but somehow it never quite works out the way we planned.

But, asks Viewer Discretion Advised, the brilliantly clever and thoughtfully beautifully new novel from Angus Stevens, what if we had been given our very heart’s desires and somehow had lost them in the forest of all the things that really don’t matter?

What about if life actually had come through, and while we somehow managed to see that at one point, we’d lost sight of the valuable, treasured things sitting in our hands?

It’s an intriguing idea and one that Stevens runs with in ways that glorious deliver on the book’s premise which is that while waiting at San Francisco airport for a flight home, Adam Robinson is encouraged to download an app that will enhance his departure experience and turn his dull, unexceptional life into something fare more cinematically dramatic.

While successful in the general gold medals and trophies way that the world awards top marks to, Angus feels he’s lost his way, his marriage to onetime fervent love Nina moribund on the way to antagonistic, his children, Louie and Ella, increasingly out of reach, and his career as a VR specialist so all-consuming it’s swept all before it.

Adam raises his glass, “Wish me luck.’

Donald looks baffled. ‘Good luck…?’

Adam reaches out, clinks his glass, gulps down his drink, and hits ‘Play’.

The back cover blurb actually sums it up wonderfully, as they are supposed to do, by declaring that “Adam Robinson gives his life 2 stars. On paper it should be a box-office hit, but it hasn’t lived up to the hype.”, and you get the feeling that, like many of us, he’s sleepwalking his way through things, having lost the passion for what’s really important.

One thing he knows he still loves is movies, though not the higher brow stuff Nina is constantly urging him to watch, with his tastes running to The Wolf of Wall Street and Waterboy rather than arthouse and indie fare.

The cool thing about the app, and what tops Adam over into using it, is that it promises to take him into the world of cinema, and so it does, making him the leading man in all kinds of rom-coms and the hero of the hour, the man who goes out heroic adventures that save the day and which stamp him as someone who is Doing Things.

It’s an alluring idea, and one many of us would undoubtedly fall for, and so Adam does, suck into a curated world where, as long as she sticks, quite literally, to the script, his life can be remade in all kinds of cinematically-enhanced, leaving his lingering sense of failure and lack of satisfaction with his life far, far behind.

(courtesy Shawline Publishing Group)

He can, in short, do whatever he wants and be whatever he wants and it’s gloriously, deliciously escapist.

But then he tries to log out, wanting to make sure he doesn’t miss his flight and he can get back to Sydney to see Nina, Louie and Ella who suddenly matter more than they have in a while, and well, let’s say reality does not rush back up to his greet him and things get very strange.

Strange, yes, but thanks to an approach that imbues Viewer Discretion Advised with as much heartfelt empathy as a palpable sense of riotous fun, Stevens manage to fill Adam’s odd trip into the made-up scenarios of the app into something that really hits home.

It’s fiendishly clever how well Viewer Discretion Advised balances between humour and adventure and some really big, soul-searing ruminations about life, and the seamless way in which the first, more lighthearted though not without serious reservation and thoughfulness part of the novel segues into the earnest and urgent second half, marks Stevens as someone with a real grasp on someone who gets what it means to be human and how easily we can lose our way in the midst of this jungle of uncertainty we call life.

A clarion call to hold fast to the things we know to be important and true less we lose sight of them, Viewer Discretion Advised is so full of gloriously good insight about the human condition and the messily blinkered way we live life that you will be marvelling at the truthfulness of its observations even as its full speed ahead narrative carries you furiously and compellingly on.

Out on the concourse, A[dam] isn’t sure what he wants to find, or where he wants to look. He Wanders around, staring at the airport shopping troupe of magnets, booze, and perfumes, like he is vegging out watching telly.

Warm and alive but full with regret and a desperate need to fix that which it wasn’t realised was broken, Viewer Discretion Advised is a superbly good read that marries that need we all have to lose ourselves in a book with that part of us that wants to think and feel and emerge 300 or so pages later feeling our heart and mind have both been engaged to equal measure.

Full to the brim with love and longing, Viewer Discretion Advised is that rare novel that dazzles an intriguing idea before you and absolutely knocks it out of the park, rewarding you with a story that goes to places you don’t even expect and which leave supremely glad you went there.

This is therapy in a book and it works a treat because while you are adventuring and escaping with Adam, you are also privy to and impacted by the way in which he is changed and reshaped by his experiences and how they call upon him to set aside all the stuff he thought mattered and to fight to save and get back to what is actually worth his time, heart and attention.

Suffused with pop culture brilliance, Viewer Discretion Advised does an exemplarily wise and heartfelt job of taking you into the movies you love, evoking what makes them so magical but then asking you if that’s what you really want instead of life, or whether perhaps, perhaps, what you really want and need is to dig down, find the stuff that makes you truly glad to be alive and hold tight to it so hard that nothing else will ever matter quite so much again.

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