The Red-Headed Pilgrim by Kevin Maloney. Columbus, OH, FORTHCOMING with Two Dollar Radio. 242 pages. $18.95, paperback. 

Many may fantasize about writing the Great American Novel, never working a nine-to-five job, and having constant unprotected sex without producing a child, but Kevin, the protagonist in The Red-Headed Pilgrim, fails in all of these respects. As a nervous, existentialist virgin who allows the possibility of sex to motivate all of his decisions, little of Kevin’s journey is new; he is a heterosexual white man hoping to achieve enlightenment by never working more than eighteen hours a week and entertaining every half-baked, drug-induced plan he cooks up. His privilege, ideologies, and frequent use of shrooms protect him from a meaningless reality that is always encroaching. 

In spite of his protagonist’s played out traits, Maloney finds a way to make his story and his perspective new. He posits fresh and disturbing concepts, like the idea that our “bones…are the seeds of our future skeletons.” Essential to his wit and insightfulness is the retrospective self-awareness he employs. Maloney satirizes the idolized nomadic lifestyle of the aspiring artist by filling Kevin with high-minded ideals and then sending him back and forth across the nation to follow women who typically reject him. Maloney often had me cackling. In describing his crying newborn daughter Zoe, Kevin says “She didn’t speak English. Probably she didn’t want to be born and I screwed everything up by having sex with her mom.” This idea encapsulates young Kevin; he projects his nihilism onto everyone and inadvertently develops empathy. 

Despite his efforts to avoid the mundane and the meaningless, Kevin often finds himself “cleaning liquid shit out of Zoe’s forearm crevices.” Once Zoe comes into his life, no amount of “praying without ceasing” can offer him greater meaning than she can. In The Red-Headed Pilgrim, Maloney envisions a hilarious reality in which we must give up on our dreams to care for those we love and begrudgingly find meaning along the way.

—Daniel Marcantuono, MAR

The Red-Headed Pilgrim by Kevin Maloney will be released January 24, 2023. Preorder now at twodollarradio (dot) com.