East Fifth Bliss is one of those books that has you slapping your hand over your eyes because poor ol’ Morris Bliss is such a hapless dumbshit – a lovable, sweet, kind, hapless dumbshit – and you can never be sure as to how far away he is from true disaster and annhilation. As hapless as he is, author Douglas Light is such a fabulous writer that you just can’t help falling in love with Morris and wanting to cheer him on much like the Little Engine That Could. I think I can, I think I can. Pleeease, Morris!
I vividly remember my first read through of E5thBliss because he grabbed me at first page, and I didn’t stop reading until the last page, 66,000 words later. My butt had fallen asleep and my knees were locked in a landing position. But I didn’t care because I had to have this book. This is what nabbed me:
There are two theories.
After brothing up a world with water and soil and fish and plants and beasts that stand on two feet and talk and would eventually want credit cards and cell phones and satellite TV, God dipped his finger in the wetness between New Jersey and Long Island and summoned forth the rock called Manhattan. By doing so, He set in motion His austere plan: one day, there’d be an island replete with towering steel buildings and shabby brick tenements, dying trees, and co-ops with monthly maintenances more than most Americans’ mortgage payments. It’d be a paradise filled with hundreds of concrete parks littered with losing lotto tickets and fried chicken bones. Rats would frolic on doorsteps. Dogs would defecate on the sidewalks. Squirrels would charge at the passing people, having no fear.
His plan called for a place where bulimic make-up salesclerks, who hide their cold sores with dark lipstick, would fit in. Myopic Midwesterners, who swear they’ve read Ulysses when they haven’t, would have a home. The Hasidim would feel comfortable hanging their beaver fur hats there. It’d be a place for all, even Italian restaurateurs who claim that stale toast with a little tomato and a spot of olive oil is bruschetta and charge twelve dollars a plate. Even obese Hispanics in tight stretch pants who wave their nation’s flag while screaming that they’re being stereotyped. All would be welcomed with open arms. All would be embraced. His plan called for an island of everything. An island the world turned to.
The second theory has to do with strange gray and green and purple gases, tiny jumping particles, a spark, and then a Big Bang. Presto! Earth’s formed. Manhattan’s made. Then some slimy being flopped from the waters onto the land, gasped for air, and has since raged for millions of years to become mankind today.
Following either school of thought, this fact stands: Morris Bliss is thirty-five years old. He’s lived his entire life in Apartment 8 in a weathered, red brick tenement on East Fifth Street near the corner of First Avenue. Has lived his entire life with his father.
But Morris has plans, big plans. Life altering plans. He’s starting them today, or this week. This month. He’s starting them very soon.
Morris Bliss has never left home.
See? Hooked. I love the voice – unusual with its present tense. But Doug pulled it off quite nicely, and I felt as though Morris’ life was unfolding in real time right before my eyes. I spent half my time holding my breath and the other reading through the fingers covering my eyes.
We all procrastinate, right? We get caught up in the inertia of everyday – so much so that we find ourselves saying, “One day I’m gonna write that book” or “I’m gonna lose ten pounds,” but we never do it. Well Morris Bliss takes the idea of procrastination to new levels when his life turns into a complete nightmare. He’s dating his boss’ eighteen year-old daughter, who would kill Morris if he found out. His best friend, RJ, is an affable whack job is who recruited by the Red Thread, an international cartel that controls global economics and local sex market, and it falls to Morris to help save RJ’s miserable hide and, with lovely symmetry, himself.
It boasts one of the sweetest endings I’ve read in a long time, and it just made me all glowy and gooey for days afterward. The added benefit of buying this book was to work with Doug Light, one of the nicest and talented writers floating around that rock of Manhattan. I couldn’t have been happier when East Fifth Bliss took the gold medal at the Ben Franklin Book Awards at New York’s Book Expo America in the Popular Fiction category – unquestionably the toughest and Grand Poohba of all categories.
I love Library Journal’s sentiments:
“This fun read boasts a likable protagonist, other quirky and interesting characters, and vivid and humorous descriptions of New York while also providing some significant social commentary. The scene in which Morris and a former high school classmate (and father of the 18-year-old girl with whom Morris is sleeping) storm a vacant building in the middle of the night to roust out a group of homeless squatters is both funny and disturbing. Recommended for large public libraries with an interest in new and unknown authors.”
If you’re looking for a fun, easy read and are in the mood to laugh your butt off while biting your tongue, you won’t do any better than East Fifth Bliss. Great job, Doug. You so rock!
You can read the first two chapters here.