Tell Us When To Go begins with Isaac Moss reflecting on the time his good friend and sometimes roommate, Cole Gallegos, asked him to join in running away following the latter’s decision to drop out of college. The book explores their friendship which is rooted in a shared experience: the two are college baseball teammates who bond over a love of music. Cole is destined for major league greatness, while Isaac is happy to warm the bench and bide his time until after college, when he hopes for a career that doesn’t come. Both come from towns outside of the city they aspire to inhabit, though Cole’s reluctance to fulfill societal expectations of young success in the city is more apparent. DeAndreis breaks their journey into seven sections so the narrative precedes from the invitation to run away to their new lives in San Francisco during 2010-2011 as they navigate unemployment and a changing landscape, with interspersed reflection on the pasts that led to this point.
The timeline is pivotal to the narrative, centering on the friends’ escape to the city and their emergence from college during the Great Recession. We’re reminded by Isaac that “[a]ll across the country, parents were restructuring their basements into Welcome Home hovels for their millennial spawn, installing bathrooms, kitchenettes, sliding doors to the back yard” and that, even though moving back home to live with his parents might have its moments had he chosen that route, “plenty of toxic things are sweet.” DeAndreis integrates the threads of the friendship timeline and the job climate by spending just enough time reflecting on the beginnings of the relationship between Cole and Isaac, so the reader feels invested in the characters but the narrative doesn’t feel weighed down by history or facts of the cultural weather of those years.
DeAndreis has written a sympathetic, changed character in Cole, who shares similarities with the author. DeAndreis himself was a D1 college athlete, a baseball pitcher with a contract to play professionally, when he began to experience symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. His memoir on the subject, Hard To Grip: A Memoir of Youth, Baseball, and Chronic Illness, was released in 2017 by Schaffner Press. In Tell Us When To Go, Cole, also a pitcher, struggles with yips before games, tanking his chances of being signed by a major league team.
Alternating first person point of view works well here: the reader first sees how Cole’s world must look from the outside. The book begins with Isaac’s point of view, so we encounter Cole through Isaac’s eyes, this surreal hero of a baseball player with natural talent, and the reader can compare this outside view of Cole as young baseball star with his own awareness of fleeting success. Later, as the friends drift, Isaac assumes Cole is depressed, stuck to complain about his job as a paraprofessional at a high school. But Cole takes pride in his work with troubled kids like Dizzy and is invested in the job while focused on reconciling his past with this version of himself. This difference between perceptions is a key element of the novel: assumptions and miscommunications lead to an emerging gap between the friends.
Isaac’s change throughout the book is almost fully in relation to Cole, and this makes sense, as Cole is the reason Isaac ends up in the city. It’s impossible not to see how Isaac might feel overshadowed by Cole’s talent and early direction. As Isaac puts it, Cole has always been “valued for his potential” while Isaac is largely free of this weight of expectations and of the past. Cole’s brief and misguided foray into online trolling allows him to step outside of himself and this weight. Placing the two alongside each other is a smart narrative decision, as the reader empathizes with Cole’s struggle to reconcile the outcome of his life with his early trajectory toward success but can perhaps relate more closely to Isaac’s struggles as an average athlete and student. Together, the characters demonstrate how to grow individually while not inevitably growing apart.
Class is deftly addressed. As someone who stared longingly at the expensive drinks I shelved but couldn’t afford while working in upscale grocery retail during the early 2000s, I laughed at the mention of the Odwalla juice refrigerator at GO. DeAndreis describes it as stocked with Odwalla juice bottles, ready for any employee to grab on route to their next meeting, productive and hydrated. Isaac first encounters the Odwalla when he interviews as a temp: “Odwalla had always been of a world just outside my reach, like paying for a massage or getting a full tank of gas. And here they were, casually free.” It’s satisfying that Isaac’s final act of defiance against GO is to abscond with an armful of the free juices, and for the reader to question the meaning of free.
DeAndreis also touches on work culture. GO reminds the reader of certain tech companies. Isaac becomes aware of how he changed while attempting to ascend from temp to full-time employee, specifically in his communications with Cole as they degraded over time: “I’d picked up a language so apologies didn’t happen, because apologies meant fault, and fault meant weakness.” Cole’s trolling of past acquaintances and nemeses who judged him for his failure, performed through his alt account, Veritas Satire V, plays with using language to hurt and to exact revenge, flips the power back to an anonymized Cole. Like Isaac post-reflection, DeAndreis is aware of the power of and suggestions made by language, evidenced by the nuanced characters and their grappling with class, friendship, and failure.
Publisher: Flexible Press
Publication date: September 20th, 2022
Reviewed by Suzy Eynon