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Literature / Apathy and Other Small Victories

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"There comes a time in every man's life where he wakes up drunk on the toilet and begins to doubt the choices he's made."
— Shane

Apathy and Other Small Victories is a 2006 novel by Paul Neilan. It tells the story of Shane, a perpetually-broke alcoholic with borderline-sociopathic tendencies, as he tries to clear his name after one of his only friends is found dead in her bathroom. Given that he is a jerk, this proves harder than he expects.


This book contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Shane pretty much runs on Miller High Life. He can't even go to work without getting wasted first.
  • Alpha Bitch: Gwen is an abusive, manipulative corporate climber.
  • Apophenia Plot: Because Shane is an alcoholic whose sole experience in detective work consists of watching too many detective movies, he becomes convinced that Marlene's death was tied to some big conspiracy involving her abusive husband, a wannabe coke dealer (who's actually selling Ritalin, but can't tell the difference), and a neighbor who may or may not be in a sexual relationship with a guinea pig. The reality turns out to be way more mundane: She slipped and fell in the shower and suffered a fatal head injury.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Shane believes that his loony neighbor Mobo is having a sexual relationship with a guinea pig because of the strange cries coming from his apartment at night, and judges him accordingly. It later turns out that Mobo was having an affair with Marlene; the strange cries were hers.
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  • Comedic Sociopathy: At least half of the humor is derived from Shane being a terrible person. The other half comes from the rest of the world reacting to Shane's jerkass-ness.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Gwen has Shane blacklisted from every insurance company in the state as her revenge for his failing to get upset over her dumping him.
  • Driven to Suicide: After Shane becomes convinced that Bryce has something to do with Marlene's death, he goes to him and announces that he knows Bryce's secrets, hoping that he'll spook Bryce into fleeing town and draw the investigation into Marlene's death away from Shane. It turns out that Bryce's actual secret is that he's been dealing cocaine (it's actually Ritalin, but he doesn't know that), and, convinced that he's about to go to jail for hard drugs, he kills himself.
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  • Even Evil Has Standards: As horrible as Shane is, his instinctive reaction to seeing that Marlene has a black eye is to assume that her husband beats her, and thus he fantasizes about tracking the guy down and beating him to death with a baseball bat.
  • Insult Backfire: During her breakup with him, Gwen accuses Shane of being selfish and not caring about her. He agrees with her.
  • Jerkass: Shane, full stop.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Mobo tries to pass himself off as some sort of Latino mystic. He's actually just a white guy named Rick Beekman.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Gwen delivers one to Shane while breaking up with him, but he shrugs it off, much to her annoyance.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The whole book takes place from Shane's perspective, and it's entirely possible that most of his anecdotes are exaggerated to make himself look good and/or make other people look bad.