Michael Griffithâ€™s funny, infectious novel Trophy (TriQuarterly) follows Vada, a once promising college student who, after losing his parents in a car accident, drops out of school and never again does anything productive. Meanwhile, Vadaâ€™s friend and rival Wyatt becomes a top earner on the Asian golf circuit, gets hailed as a hero for stopping a grapefruit knife-wielding assailant (Wyatt mostly saved the knife-wielder from himself, it turns out), and becomes engaged to the local weather woman, Darla, whom Vada promptly falls for and who treats him like her best girlfriend. Vada makes a plan to tell Darla about his feelings, and then he dies.
Thatâ€™s the whole point, really, of the book, following as it does the last twenty minutes of Vadaâ€™s lifeâ€”as he finishes mowing the lawn, eats cookie dough for lunch, and suffocates under the weight of his friend Wyattâ€™s stuffed trophy bear. Itâ€™s a joke wrapped in a pun inside a pratfall, the gags and absurdities layering and corkscrewing until you donâ€™t know which way is up.
But Griffithâ€™s novel is more than a series of jokes or comic set pieces. The narrator both claims that Vada is telling the storyâ€”he attributes specific words to Vada, claims Vada lied in the previous chapter, etc.â€”and refers consistently to Vada in the third person, which together make the novel seem less about a (mostly!) pathetic character dying and more about the pieces of each of us which come across as pitiful, unsuccessful, unrealized, incomplete. Vada describes himself as â€śa hard case, only not in the unreformable-criminal wayâ€¦but for crimes of excessive interiority and fear.â€ť Itâ€™s Social Anxiety Disorder as a metaphysical state, and Griffith deftly connects this human moment to the acts of writing and reading and also, more universally, to our relationship with mortality. Griffithâ€™s fearless narrative gearshifting and his funny, nuanced portrait of grief give the book a degree of subtlety which makes Vada’s story moving and satisfying in ways that less ambitious comic novels canâ€™t hope to achieve.