Alternative Atlanta by Marshall Boswell
Atlanta, 1996. Gerald Brinkman, grad school drop-out and music columnist for Alternative Atlanta, the free weekly paper, is a 30-year-old man-child with a crappy apartment, too many CDs, and a job that is cooler in theory than in practice.
At first, this seems like another story about a white boy who wakes up one day to realize that he has nothing but credit card debt and a string of bitter ex-girlfriends to show for his misspent youth. And this is where, plot-wise, a lot of writers would stop.
But there's more to Gerald's life than that. There's his friend, Nora, who may or may not have married disasterously, and who Gerald may or may not be completely over. And there's the possibility of a job at a high profile music magazine. And then there's Gerald's father, Paul, who shows up in Atlanta announcing that he's sold all his possessions and plans to move in for good.
Believe it or not, Gerald's relationships become much more complicated from here, in ways that are both surprising and emotionally gripping. Alternative Atlanta is much better than most "shiftless 20-something" books because in addition this emotional depth, it has characters that are richly drawn*, natural, effervescent dialogue, and an actual, honest-to-god plot. Who could ask for more?
If you like...: Nick Hornby, Chuck Klosterman, or Curtis Sittenfeld, this book is for you. Also, Boswell's short story collection Trouble With Girls is a great read in the same vein.
* Though he only appears in three scenes, pot-smokin', bathrobe-wearin', sci-fi readin' grad student Jeff Flibula somehow became my third or fourth favorite character in the whole book.