This novel should take its rightful place as a serious literary endeavour about what it means to be human, to be in love, and how that love overcomes all obstacles.
The Future for Curious PeoplePublisher: Algonquin
Length: 324 pages
Author: Gregory Sherl
Publication date: 2014-08
The Future for Curious People is a novel that acknowledges both the precarious state many of us live in relationship-wise, as well as the potential future of our romantic endeavors. Films such as the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind try to erase memories of past romances, and books such as The Time Traveler’s Wife ponders what it might be like to meet your current love in another time. The Future for Curious People, however, is a heartbreakingly melancholic tale of what it would be like if we had the technology to see into the future, and paint a picture of what life with our partner may be truly like in five, 10, 15 years and so on.
Before I go any further, some space needs to be taken about the author, Gregory Sherl, who appears to be a controversial figure in his publishing circles. He recently tried to raise $10,000 through crowd-funding to obtain treatment for his obsessive compulsive disorder (and succeeded in reaching less than half his target). But when he did that, women who had been in relationships with Sherl started coming forward claiming that the author emotionally, physically and, in at least one case, sexually abused them, and they say he doesn’t require your money, pity or attention to his books. There’s even a negative review on Amazon for this book that focuses on the author’s behavior and not the artistic work. It should be noted that, based on my reading, none of these allegations have been proven or even tried in a court of law.
I agree with the assertion that bad people shouldn’t be rewarded. On the other hand, a book stands on its own merits outside of its creator. For my purposes, Sherl has rendered a good piece of work, here. And that work has to stand on its own.
The Future for Curious People follows two characters, a young librarian named Evelyn and a young man named Godfrey. Evelyn has just broken up with her musician boyfriend, and wants to know what her romantic future might entail. Godfrey, on the other hand, is in a committed relationship – he has just proposed marriage to his somewhat reluctant girlfriend Madge, who convinces Godfrey to participate in an “envisioning” of their relationship at two separate clinics that offers this to those wanting to peer into their futures. As it happens, Godfrey and Evelyn cross paths at their clinic, and each gradually begins to wonder if the person they're involved with is the right fit for them. Complications ensue.
This story, in many ways, reads like an emo album – in fact, there are references to hip indie bands of today such as Modest Mouse, Cat Power, and Iron and Wine, for starters, and emo skateboarders play a somewhat pivotal role in the plot. There’s some really heart-on-your-sleeve writing going on here, a diary-like confessional of details that emerge of the character’s paths. Evelyn is tormented by the fact that her 12-year-old sister was killed in a bicycle mishap before Evelyn was born, and has the lingering feeling that she was simply just a replacement for her dead sister.
Godfrey, on the other hand, has father issues: he is of illegitimate birth; his biological father had an affair with his mother, and then removed himself from the picture. Godfrey constantly fears that he is going to grow up to be just like his biological father. These elements hang over the characters, seemingly inhibiting them from finding true happiness with another person.
That’s not to say that The Future for Curious People isn’t funny. It is, but not in a slap-your-knee kind of way. Godfrey, in particular, has a dry wit. When he sees a sort of therapist to deal with his relationship with Madge (let’s just say that their “envisioning” sessions don’t turn up the happiest of futures), he comments on the doctor’s Moleskin notebook, wondering how many moles died in making the book.
The details of the doctor’s offices are quite humorous, as well. While “envisioning” practices are regulated by the FCC, these operations have a very fly-by-night feel. Godfrey’s and Evelyn’s doctor’s office is in a strip-mail in a space that used to be a Chinese food restaurant, and the smell of egg rolls lingers. The doctor is one Dr. Chin, who isn’t Asian, despite what the name might imply. And the “envisioning” gear and helmet are laughably low-tech: in fact, they’re coin-operated.
If anything, though, this novel is one about relationships and whether or not there is truly “the one” out there for all of us. Quite realistically, the story offers that each and every relationship will have its triumphs and problem moments – despite some couplings that just wouldn’t work for obvious mismatched reasons, most relationships are a sea of turbulence. Good things happen. Bad things happen. You might say that a relationship is work, but to the characters who do wind up falling in love, a relationship is considered home. Indeed, there’s a terrific focus on the importance of family, here.
Reading The Future of Curious People, as a currently single person, I felt a deep, genuine undercurrent of sadness in this work. You might not want to read this if you’re alone, because the novel promises both the searing reality and the gut-wrenching beauty of falling head over heels for someone. Nothing in life is perfect, which this book hammers home, but it offers the promise that there might be a perfect person out there for everyone.
This novel is an insightful work on the human condition that doesn’t necessarily demean women in any way – even though Godfrey, a possible stand-in for the author, is a bit curt and cruel in his relationship with Madge. It's a dazzling work of heart-crushing emotion. It’s too bad that a dark cloud hangs over this work with the author’s supposed actions, but let The Future for Curious People stand on its own.
Dear readers: Please be aware that our writer agonized over how to approach the subject of allegations against Sherl in this review, to the degree that the entire review was taken over by that subject matter. I edited the review to redirect its focus on the work; that is, to read as a book review, as it is intended, with an acknowledgement to the accusations, which are better addressed in investigative journalism articles and the legal system.
With respect to reader concerns in mind, and understanding how this might have caused offense, which I assure you was not intended, I have removed the sentence, "It’s hard to believe that someone who writes about relationships, and especially women, so convincingly as Sherl does in The Future for Curious People could do the things people are saying online about him.”
I have also removed the phrase, “…so a large grain of salt should be set between's one teeth when considering this matter and how it affects Sherl's work as an author."
Never does PopMatters intend to be disrespectful of such real concerns. However, this is a review of the book, it is not a story about the author.
Karen Zarker, Managing Editor / Books Editor