Twisted and Tasty: On Trevor J. Houser's The Prumont Method
by Robert Fromberg
If a novel can be an animal, Trevor J. Houser’s The Prumont Method is a Sphynx cat: a slick surface, a playful personality, a disquieting body, and a face from a nightmare.
In the novel, 55-year-old Rog Prumont, fired from both his healthcare marketing job and his marriage, embarks on a motel tour of the country to test his amateur mathematician’s formula that promises to foretell mass shootings.
Prumont hilariously excoriates his marketing output; my favorite is “Our prognosis? Convenience matters.” Yet, appropriately for this narrator, the novel is built on a master marketer’s bright, catchy, entertaining — even when grim — nuggets. Prumont is a Zumba-doing, obscure-whiskey-drink-recipe spouting, obituary-on-a-cocktail napkin writing man whose “only friend is a tween in a Chewbacca t-shirt.”
As the fragments gradually and satisfyingly assemble themselves into the sinewy lines of the novel, things become considerably darker. His drinking goes from fun to problematic. He shows us the slow dissolution of his marriage. He experiences the loss of his daughter’s respect.
And then there is The Formula. How can his purported ability to foretell mass shootings locate him in history, make him relevant, give his life meaning? How can it allow his to be remembered as are his mathematician heroes, to “prove the universe wrong,” and to earn his daughter’s respect? How can any of that happen when he feels so clinically detached from the most gruesome events? Is his inevitable role savior or victim, sage or fool?
The book tackles big questions. Ultimately, despite its backdrop of gun violence, those questions are more personal than societal. Rog Prumont is more Prufrock than Plato. (At one point, he even dares to eat a peach.)
The rhetorical method of The Prumont Method is wildly engaging, entertaining us with dark humor in each bright seemingly disconnected piece while drawing us into the plot like the best potboiler. And the novel’s Sphynx-like conundrums cut to the core of what it means to be a seeker of the rational in a violently irrational world.
Robert Fromberg is author of the memoir How to Walk with Steve (Latah Books, 2021) and the essay collection Friends and Fiends, Pulp Stars and Pop Stars (Alien Buddha Press, 2022). He taught writing for many years at Northwestern University.