(this review originally appeared at Outsider Writers Collective)The first page of Mark SaFranko’s Hating Olivia mentions the narrator’s possible suicidal tendencies, which immediately associates this novel with so much self-indulgent, faux gutter dreck that has come before. So, considering that Hating Olivia not only dodges those preconceptions, but instills its susceptible characters with a well-crafted sense of empathy makes overcoming that initial hump all the more impressive.Hating Olivia presents a situation we’ve read many times before, that of the struggling writer eschewing traditional employment on the romantic ideal that he will sustain himself (mentally more than financially) by way of his prose. Sharing Max Zajack’s dream is his live-in, on-off girlfriend Olivia Aphrodite, who he lovely calls Livy. It becomes quickly apparent that the couple is more in love with the idea of writing than the act. Months pass without a single scribbled sentence, and ultimately the couple resort to what they consider the worst of all outcomes: they get jobs.Perhaps best appreciated by a writer rather than the casual reader, SaFranko’s story propels along with Zajack’s various writerly phases, from the finding of his voice (page 20) to the unexpected epiphany (pg 129), throughout, mentioning (re: paying homage to) writers who have come before him:“So like Bukowski entering the U.S Postal service, or Melville at the customs house, or Kafka and his nameless insurance company, I reported like an automaton to the front desk, to be inducted into the ranks of corporate America” (pg 76).Of particular note is the way SaFranko periodically embodies Henry Miller, particularly his Tropic of Cancer:“I’d had a few women in my life, but I was to learn something new about sex from Olivia Aphrodite (her true middle name). We were to take the plunge together into the subsoil of raw concupiscence, from which both ecstasy and madness spring, and forgo the dusty, worthless upper strata of passionless habit and duty that most humans know. I would come to live for fucking Livy. For the first time I knew what it was to truly bang a woman, to ram like a batter, to bury my body, obliterate my self, in the mysterious folds of a cunt. Like a devoted master of the Kama Sutra, I discovered the rude pleasure of enjoying the female in an infinite number of contortions, to forge onward when there was no juice left, to bludgeon myself into insensibility from the sheer act of fornication. We would finish our sessions in a state of complete and utter exhaustion, in a delirium, really, oblivious altogether to the outside world” (pgs 25-26).Hating Olivia wavers constantly on the verge of falling to a juvenile tale of romantic idealism and angst against the Corporate Machine, but SaFranko navigates those cliffs beautifully, always artfully rescuing and re-establishing the book to its deeper, emotional heart. I know a book is good when I’ve reached the end to realize that I’ve written hardly any notes. Hating Olivia escaped with barely a half page.