A sixteen-year-old gaming addict is tossed into rehab just as he meets his dream girl in the most unlikely of circumstances; now, Jaxon has to find his way out of the facility before he accidentally stands her up on the night of their big date. Cure for the Common Universe, the debut novel of Christian McKay Heidicker, reveals to us a protagonist who is familiar and not at all likable– which is what piqued my interest as the story went on. Jaxon is a real piece of work. He’s awful to the only rehab resident there who shows any affection for him, a little boy named Soup who’s clearly suffering from neglectful parents and attachment issues. He patronizes their “guild leader,” Fezzik, who has overcome his own addiction. He consistently manages to offend the unassuming and friendly nymphette that is Dryad, and he steps over everybody that offers any kindness to him in hopes of getting his hundred-thousand points and escaping V-hab, as he refers to the facility.
What we see here is a protagonist who embodies the stereotype of a “nice guy,” and this is such an interesting angle to take with a story. Usually, our protagonists are funny, clever, and, you know… engaging. Jaxon might be funny and a bit clever, but overall, he’s pathetic. This sounds like a horrible thing to say about anyone, fictional character or not, but there’s no other way to describe a person who never fails to blame the rest of the universe for all of his terrible choices.
Jaxon does have legitimate problems of his own: probably abandonment issues due to his never-there, addiction-riddled mother, who managed to fail every one of his expectations though he still holds love for her. As Meeki, another V-hab resident, points out later in the book: he uses his mother as a crutch. He blames all of his problems on her, and I believe that there’s one point in the story where she tears into him for acting like he’s the only one who’s suffered in his entire life. Which is true.
The plot is not kind to our protagonist, I will admit this: many characters at the rehabilitation center despise him though, as we realize later on, with the exception of Meeki (who hates him because he’s a straight, white, middle-class guy, which I mean you can envy but to have Hellfire-fueled loathing for him from even before their first meeting? That’s a bit harsh), most others have good reason. Jaxon doesn’t realize how huge of a jerk he is, nor does he care. He is single-minded in his efforts to earn a hundred thousand points, which will get him out of the facility for good– points which are earned through a variety of activities like eating healthy food, exercising, and learning. (By the way, to stick gaming addicts in a rehab facility that draws its inspiration from MMOs doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, but I mean… what do I know.) Jaxon manages to cross a number of lines while trying to earn these points in time for Thursday, when he’ll finally be able to go on his dream date with Gravity/Serena, a sultry siren whose attention he somehow managed to capture. Meeki points out several times in the book how creepy it is that he’s only met the girl once and has managed to build a proverbial shrine to her, placing her on a pedestal and worshiping every one of her imagined moves (because again, he doesn’t even know the chick.) and I appreciate this, because this is incredibly unhealthy behavior that has been exhibited by people of all genders and age: putting the object of their affection on a pedestal. They can do no wrong. They’re perfect and ethereal and impossible, and they are impossible, because people aren’t really like that. Ever.
The book does reference some old gold, though, like Bioshock, Animal Crossing and Metal Gear Solid along with a plethora of other video game cameos. It’s nice to catch them and feel that little surge of triumph like hey, I know what that is. I’ve played it before. And then you remember that you’re reading about someone crippled by gaming addiction and that triumph isn’t so triumphant anymore but that’s okay, whatever.
I think overall, I did enjoy this book. It was a light read, and though most of the time I was criticizing Jaxon, he is sympathetic. Mr. Heidicker makes Jaxon maybe not personable, but certainly understandable. If he was perhaps a side character, there’s no way he would have ever been a contender for the role of the main character, but now that we’re in his head he’s a little more complex than we believe, because he’s really deluded himself into thinking that the things that he does are okay. And I’m happy to assure that by the end of the book, Jaxon sees all the people he’s been treading on and truly feels apologetic, which starts a new chapter of his life.
I would recommend this book to anyone. You don’t have to be a gamer or anything to read it, just someone who enjoys reading through the eyes of an unusual protagonist. And I like that in this book, we see into the mind of a young man. Usually protagonists are female, or male written by a female author, and I do think that there’s a difference in the characterization of a male character written by a male author. So it’s curious. Anyways, check this book out if you’re looking for a not-too-heavy but not-too-light read, a pretty cover (10/10) and familiar references! It’s good. I liked it.