I probably could've finished this book in a couple of hours, except that every few pages I was seized by a compulsive need to leap off the couch, run down to the corner bar and slam a stack of quarters into Ms. Pac-Man. Lucky Wander Boy was a siren call my inner geek couldn't fail to heed. It's the story of Adam Pennyman, one of those well-educated, culturally aware, 20-something Americans paralyzed by infinite career possibilities. They know it's within their grasp to find fulfillment in their work, but they haven't found it yet; instead, they turn to pop culture, using nostalgia to elevate once-mundane entertainments to the level of religious icons. You've seen these people in car commercials.
But Adam is obsessed with something most adults consider sort of uncool. He's not just a slacker, he's a geek. By his own definition, "a geek is a person, male or female, with an abiding, obsessive, self-effacing, even self-destroying love for something besides status." In Adam's case, it's classic video games: Frogger, Asteroids, Donkey Kong and, in particular, a little-known Japanese game called Lucky Wander Boy.
Adam spends his free time writing his magnum opus, The Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments. The encyclopedic entries, many written while Adam is in the grip of a certain recreational vegetable, plunge deep into each video game's inner realms to find its true meaning. A clever writer, Weiss uses hyperbolic intellectualism to give Adam that ironic-sounding, but not really ironic, tone of worship: "It is difficult to ignore the similarities between Donkey Kong (the creature) and the demiurge of the Gnostic heresies," one Catalogue entry reads. "After imprisoning the true creator and occupying her harmonious creation, Donkey Kong defiles it, knocking it out of whack, making it as imperfect as the material world we are compelled to live in." It's at least as tragic as it is pretentious. We have no gods; we have Pac-Man. There is no true love; all chicks are really pixilated princesses waiting to be rescued.
So it's no surprise when Adam screws up his life for the sake of the game. He gets a job at a dot-com, where he's put in charge of a screenplay based on Lucky Wander Boy. In his quest to learn the game's secrets, he spirals out of control. The book turns into a wild romp that draws on samurai and Yakuza culture, alien conspiracy theories and Choose Your Own Adventure books. It's smart, fun and fast. If there's a scrap of geek in you, you'd better start saving up quarters right now. Becky Ohlsen writes from the geek-chic city of Portland, Oregon.