Lucas, the main character in Kevin Nguyen’s novel that released early last month, “New Waves”, is a twenty-something, unambitious, mess. Working as the sole customer support representative at tech start-up Nimbus, Lucas and his closest friend Margo, an engineer at the firm, spend the majority of their time outside of working drinking at mediocre bars and complaining about work. When Margo is fired from the company for her lack of “team morale”, Lucas and her hatch a plan to get back at the company by stealing all of their username information.
But what happens when the friend you commit a federal crime against your previous employer with is hit by a car? Lucas is left to pick up the pieces, and as he takes on a job at a competing tech firm, Phantom, curiosity gets the better of him. But diving into Margo’s history and search history leaves Lucas with more questions than answers about the person he thought was his best friend. Nguyen navigates with dexterity Lucas’ grief and the fallout of loss while leading readers down a mysterious trail into Margo’s past.
Lucas is not exactly the kind of character a reader is used to rooting for. He is lazy, messy, and at times cruel. He has no real dreams he is pursuing. He only moved to New York City to escape working at his parents’ bed and breakfast back home in Oregon. His only real friend is Margo, and even the details and seriousness of their relationship is shrouded with a certain apathy. It’s unclear whether or not their friendship continues because of genuine connection, or pure convenience. After her passing, and a handful of discoveries, Lucas admits he was in love with Margo, “but what if I could love someone and not want to f*** them?”. This is where Nguyen falters.
The admittance comes a little over halfway through the novel. In some ways, it’s incredibly satisfying. From the beginning of my reading of the novel, I wondered if the matter would be addressed. While I was glad to get an answer, the minute I had it I realized I would’ve been better off without it. Lucas’ love for Margo is most interesting when it exists as a Schrodinger’s cat; it both exists and does not exist until this moment, and the novel is better off without Nguyen’s direct address of it. By doing so, Nguyen reveals the primary issue with his novel; it lacks any form of internal engine. Anything interesting in the novel conveniently happens to the characters, as opposed to any action happening based on the choices the characters make. And while it is engrossing initially to see Lucas flounder after the death of his beloved friend, it is apparent fairly early on that the character is aimlessly wandering through life, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. While Lucas does grow somewhat of a spine through the course of the book, it misses the mark for me. My desire for Lucas to grow, to change, to try is never fully met, despite what appears to be Nguyen’s careful cultivation of this feeling in readers.
“New Waves” is far from bad. Nguyen’s writing is admirable, and his form and integration of technology hit a mark that many “modern” books fail to do. But at the end of the day, “New Waves” is a story about a whole lot of things happening to someone who doesn’t care enough to let it alter their outlook on life.