The Losers' Club, winner of the Ludlow Press Breakout Fiction Award, is clearly a unique story, and a work that should be recognized. This first novel by Richard Perez is, in its own odd and obscure way, a romance novel that takes place in the East Village of New York in the 1990s.
Martin Sierra is a man without his woman, a struggling, unpublished writer who suffers from lack of stimulation in a dead-end job. His best friend, Nikki, is the woman of his dreams -- except that she is a bisexual and involved in a lesbian relationship. He and Nikki spend evenings together, visiting an array of deranged and eclectic clubs in New York. At times the two blend, melting into each other, becoming one. Though it feels right, Nikki backs off, realizing that because she has someone else in her life, what she and Martin are doing together is not right.
Tired of the more direct avenue of meeting someone and then going out on a date, Martin becomes dependent on, even addicted to, placing and responding to single ads in the paper. Once he starts getting calls and meeting the women who call him, his entire life is turned upside in a very short time. He begins to stay out late, hitting the different clubs with different women, and starts reporting to work late day after day at risk to his job.
Meeting a strange mix of intriguing women through the ads, the reader gets to learn more about Martin, his dreams, and his failures. But we also get to learn something about the women he meets. One, who lives at home with a mother who hates her, is an art student. Her canvasses depict unsettling images of intense violence, anger, and hatred. Though these two have a lot in common -- they both want to be artists, and they both have certifiable mothers -- she's coming off a breakup and Martin just might be her rebound guy.
Then Martin starts seeing an exotic woman who once let a vampire suck blood from her fingertip. A single mother and part-time schoolteacher, she enjoys hanging out and having sex with her students. Sure, they're old enough, nothing illegal, but she blatantly disregards the seriousness of minding a student-teacher relationship. Though this weirds Martin out, there really isn't anyone else answering his ad. Not to mention that they click. What hurts the relationship, oddly enough, is her attempts to probe his feelings. The truth she uncovers may be more than she cares to bare.
The novel is splashed with flashbacks. We get to see Martin's home life when he was a young boy, and learn that his depressed mother physically, and possibly sexually, abused her only child. Martin, abandoned by her and removed from her custody, is placed with his grandparents.
Hopelessly getting nowhere, things unravel quickly with women, work and relationships in this humorous, yes, but sad novel that attempts to take a look at the dating scene, at least as it occurred in New York in the mid 90's. Perez writes poetically in tightly-crafted chapters telling several stories: One about dating, one about belonging, about friends and about dreams. Saturated with bars and nightclubs, slamdancing and obscure characters, The Losers' Club is not a loser book. It is a fast and easy read, but not something that will be soon forgotten.