by Joshua Kornreich
Cavanaugh is not Kavanaugh, and Kavanaugh is not Cavanaugh. Yet when Cavanaugh, a pencil-pushing, number-crunching, “middling, middle-aged middleman,” reluctantly buys a bobblehead of the controversial Supreme Court justice for his innocent young daughter at a minor league baseball game, past traumas are retriggered, households unravel, and a mysterious inner voice reawakens, knocking Cavanaugh off the wagon and steering him headlong into the hillocky and tortuous terrain of the surreal and absurd. With a narrative that charms and intoxicates sentence-by-sentence, Cavanaugh is not only a bleak comedy of the reverberating repercussions set off by a single fraught decision, but also a darkly poignant reminder that no matter how rigorously we endeavor to seek refuge from what haunts us, memory will always find a way to creep into the din of our surroundings, forcing itself upon us against our will and, inevitably, of those we love most.
“Joshua Kornreich’s Cavanaugh follows the rollicking downfall of the remarkably unremarkable Cavanaugh and the simultaneous upfall of his alter-ego-cum-nemesis, O’Reilly, after the two men purchase bobblehead dolls of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for their young daughters at a minor league baseball game. The event throws Cavanaugh into a spiral of doubt, inebriation and memory at once hilarious and deeply unsettling. Who is Cavanaugh? Who is O’Reilly? Who is anyone? Only a master of the tragicomic like Kornreich can romp through existential questions with such raucous exuberance. From the moment Cavanaugh’s daughter takes the Kavanaugh bobblehead to show-and-tell, Kornreich steers readers on an absurdly plausible jig that grapples with complex moral questions amidst a fog of bluster and booze. In the spirit of Donleavy’s The Ginger Man and Amis’s Lucky Jim, Kornreich’s anti-hero is a man sinned against, sinning, and befuddled by both sets of transgressions. Cavanaugh may not be Kavanaugh, but Cavanaugh is Kornreich at the top of his game and the comedic novel at its side-splitting finest.”
—Jacob M. Appel, author of Einstein’s Beach House
“Cavanaugh is the most endearingly bizarre satire I’ve read in years, a thrilling case of self-made mistaken identity set off by what might be the least desirable bobblehead doll imaginable. Kornreich’s prose has always been darkly funny and formally surprising, and this is him writing at his best.”
—Matt Bell, author of Appleseed