War of the Encyclopaedists
Authors: Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite
Narrators: Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite

Published 2015 by Simon & Schuster Audio
13 hours, 20 minutes – Unabridged

war-of-the-encyclopaedists-9781442385771_hrBest-friend co-authors Robinson and Kovite have written an unusual and rewarding first novel about best friends Halifax Corderoy and Mickey Montauk. War of the Encyclopaedists is a millennial generation coming-of-age story that manages to unite the hipster art scene of the Pacific Northwest, the ivy-covered halls of New England academe, and the U.S. military occupation of the Middle East. This may sound like a stretch, but it’s beautifully executed, with a broader scope than that usually inhabited by the typical single-protagonist bildungsroman.

Halifax (“Hal”) Corderoy and Mickey Montauk are The Encyclopaedists, a pair of friends recently graduated from college in Seattle who have taken to hosting art-happening events/exhibits/parties at the big house Montauk shares with a bunch of roommates in the city’s hip Capitol Hill neighborhood. Having been written up in a local free weekly, The Encyclopaedists qualify to have a Wikipedia article about them, which they duly create themselves as a stub, a Wikipedia term for “an article deemed too short to provide encyclopedic coverage of a subject.” Of course, an entry titled “The Encyclopaedists” can’t stay non-encyclopedic for long, and soon the two are making impromptu individual updates as life events dictate.

And life events do dictate. Hal’s girlfriend Mani meets with an accident, and Hal boards a plane for Boston where he’s entering grad school in English literature. Montauk was supposed to be going too – he was accepted to Harvard – but it’s 2004, and his National Guard unit has been called up for active duty in Iraq. So he’s headed instead to a local Army base for training with his platoon before they ship out. Montauk had joined the National Guard pre-9/11 with no thought of actually serving overseas, but as a graduate of Officer Candidate School, he is now headed for Baghdad to be the lieutenant in charge of a platoon.

Corderoy is entering a crucible of his own. It’s not a combat zone, it’s the groves of academe, but it proves to be no less of a personal ordeal for Hal. What passes for intellectual rigor on Seattle’s Capitol Hill does not necessarily pass muster at Boston University, as it turns out. Add to that his loneliness and the guilt he feels about how things went the last time he saw Mani in Seattle, and you have a roadmap for a classic downward spiral.

Montauk and Corderoy don’t write to each other, so they use their periodic updates to the Wikipedia article as a postmodern – and rather oblique – way to keep in touch. These updates are interspersed throughout the text like visits from a Greek chorus, providing commentary that is humorous and somber by turns, amplifying the action and punctuating the story, heralding its major movements. Developments in the lives of the two protagonists test them individually in the course of the year, as well as testing their friendship.

The authors of War of the Encyclopaedists perform the narration for the audiobook version of their novel. Author narration is not always a good idea, but in this case it pays off. Robinson and Kovite are not trained professional voice performers, but their personal engagement with the material and with each other makes up for that. For the most part, Kovite delivers the sections told from Montauk’s point of view, while Robinson narrates Hal’s portions, but at key points in the narrative they co-narrate more tightly and poetically, most notably on the Wikipedia entries and the closing passages of the book.

War of the Encyclopaedists is an engaging listen, full of both humor and pathos, and should be broadly appealing to fans of coming-of-age tales. At the same time, the use of Wikipedia and other tools and methods of the millennial generation lends this novel a fresh, new flavor that sets it apart.

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.

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