Mark Budman has a pitch-perfect ear for the rhythms and sounds of English filtered through the hypervigilant sensibilities of an immigrant. The narrator’s mordantly witty, deadpan account of his life is told in short discrete segments like a string of linked stories, and the cumulative power of this voice drives the novel from first page to last. Mark Budman is a powerful, exciting, and original writer, and “My Life At First Try” deserves recognition and success.
Katharine Weber, the author of “Triangle” and “The Little Women”
Just when you think you’ve seen enough autobiographic novels, Budman’s debut makes you thankful you kept the door open. In prose that is simultaneously droll and sincere, unflappable yet laced with pathos, this is a book that will stay with you not in pithy quotes but as the texture of an experience.
Cris Mazza, the author of “Waterbaby” and “Homeland”
Mark Budman’s “My Life at First Try,” is smart and funny and compelling, and in an era when both the immigrant experience and the resurgent aggression of the once-Soviet Russia are central issues, the novel is timely, as well. This is a splendid debut by an important new American voice.
Robert Olen Butler, a Pulitzer Prize winner, the author of “Intercourse” and “Severance”
From Publisher’s Weekly:
This blazingly fast and funny “semi-autobiographical” novel follows a Russian man’s comically earnest pursuit of the American dream. As a child, Alex, living in 1950s Siberia with his parents and grandparents, sees a picture of his American-born second cousin, Annie, and he believes he has found his destiny. Throughout his formative sexual experiences, he fantasizes about Annie, who embodies the exoticness of Western culture and the wholesomeness of the American dream. By the late 1970s, when Alex’s parents decide to decamp for the U.S., Alex packs up his wife and their young daughter, too, and after the trio land in upstate New York, Alex goes to work at the IBM-like HAL Corporation while his wife, Lyuba, an internist, takes longer to settle in. At first, Alex is content with his new freedom-loving democratic identity, but as his children grow and Lyuba becomes more independent the dream begins to lose its sheen. The novel is hilarious, eye-opening and, by the end, a little depressing. It’s tough not to have Alex’s buoyant energy rub off on the reader.
From Kirkus Review:
A funny, little-seen version of the American dream.
Readers who enjoy a fast-paced narrative will take pleasure in Alex’s inquisitive journey.
From People Magazine:
A mordant dreamer, the protagonist of this first novel is deliciously at odds with his comrades in Russia; in college, the son of Jewish refugees disses a Chechen brute and barely escapes a mugging. … this soulful tale about a perpetual outsider marks a debut well worth celebrating.
From San Francisco Chronicle:
Life zips by, a cascade of events that we can barely assimilate. If we have enough time to jot down even a few well-made observations – and there are more than a few in this entertaining novel — that will have to suffice.
From The Boston Globe:
Budman’s description of his attempt to become an even more exotic specimen – himself – in the USSR and later in the United States, may be more memoir than fiction, but the novel’s exuberance demolishes such boundaries.
From The Washington Post:
He’s an endearing narrator, who plunges into idiomatic English with a winning sense of fun at his own expense and just a touch of that wonderful Russian accent. “I’m an indestructible charm machine,” he tells us, “smooth and naturally well-oiled.” Through high school and then engineering college, he wages a “private war against the internal enemy — my own virginity.”
From Time Out Chicago:
Budman tells his story (it’s admittedly semi-autobiographical) in tight, tiny vignettes, a form he’s accustomed to as the publisher of the flash-fiction magazine Vestal Review. Told in such short sections, the story comes through in patches that, over time, enmesh, overlap and weave together into a rich, if haggard, story of a life..
This is Mark Budman’s best achievement here: muscular sentences that tell a compelling story about the power of the American dream/myth.
From The Internet Review of Books:
From his exploration of life in a communist society to his newfound freedom—sexual and otherwise—in America, Budman takes the reader on an intimate interior and exterior journey of awakening. Budman isn’t afraid to ask painful questions, both of his adopted country and of himself.
From Rain Taxi:
Mark Budman’s My Life at First Try straddles the space between the short story cycle tradition of writers like Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway, and the novel, with its essential unities of character and plot.