Benjamin Parzybok’s Couch follows three roommates epic quest to move their couch and save the world. Their journey takes them from Portland to the highlands of Ecuador and beyond with the ever-present, possibly malignant, couch in tow. Parzybok finds a magic in the absurdity, but never slips into outright parody. This is a story of ancient powers, mystical objects, ancient societies, and the fate of the world, that is improbably told through the moving of furniture.
Thom is a former hacker of some renown, who has recently lost his IT job and his girlfriend. He finds an apartment with Eric, a small-time con man who is never quite as clever as he thinks he is, and Tree, a strange man with possibly clairvoyant dreams. They are forced to move out when an unfortunate incident with a waterbed floods the apartment and they and the couch are evicted. What starts as bad day becomes increasing bizarre. No matter what they try, they can’t seem to get rid of the couch. Despite all logic, it seems to be leading them somewhere and worse, far worse, someone seems willing to kill to get it.
The three central characters and their relationship are well captured. Thom is clearly the central figure and his efforts to remain rational and skeptical in the face of absurdity and magic are an anchor for the novel. Less successful are Eric and Tree, who despite Parzybok’s attempts can feel a little one note. On their journey, they encounter a parade of oddballs and eccentrics, a staple of the genre. At the start, there were moments where it seemed as though the author had watched O Brother, Where Art Thou? about half a dozen times and decided that all it was really missing was a big, orange couch. The novel, however, quickly developed its own distinct flavor.
The most surprising thing about Couch is that it is not a comedy. Its premise is ridiculous, and neither the author nor the characters ever forget that. But the novel never descends or even flirts with outright spoof or farce. Parzybok treats the epic, world-saving moving of a couch with knowing but genuine seriousness, and succeeds, partly because he doesn’t force it to be longer than it needs to be. This is a first novel, and some of the cracks do show, but it is a fascinating jumble of ideas and is a delightful read. Personally, I had trouble putting it down. Highly recommended.