Sunday, February 20, 2011

#16 - Showbiz

I'm not going to lie -- I cursed my "I am totally determined to read everything on my shelves" challenge a little bit with Jason Anderson's Showbiz. Part-fan fiction, part faux-history, and part "journalist that gets caught in a thriller," the book, well, simply felt implausible to me. I'm not saying that Anderson isn't a good writer, and that he doesn't have one wickedly fun imagination -- both of these things are true, but this book wasn't for me.

Nathan Grant's a Canadian ex-pat journalist attempting to make it in NYC. He's broke, needs to find a job, a girl, a life. And when he stumbles across an old comedy record by a fellow named Jimmy Wynn -- he finally thinks he's getting somewhere. See, Wynn used to do an impersonation, a really good act, based around his contemporary president -- Cannon (who bears a thinly veiled resemblance to Kennedy). After Cannon's assassination, Wynn's act is ruined and he's on the run, disappeared into pop culture oblivion, because of a "secret" the president apparently imparted to him.

What Nathan knows he's got is a story he can sell to the magazine where his friend Colin works: The Betsey. It's dedicated entirely to the life and times of President Cannon. Bingo, he's pitched it, it's accepted and all of a sudden he's in Vegas trying to track down an aging comedian among bucket loads of aging stars all kicking out their last legs on the strip.

But where there's Cannon, there's conspiracy, and where the book turned into a strange film-like mess for me. I just didn't believe it, and that's my fault. I couldn't get passed the whole "faux" world in which it was written -- and Anderson heads off on a lot of tangents. The reader doesn't necessarily need to know the plots of every single B film that Wynn, in one of his many disguises after being disgraced, and nor do we need to read every single article or have each clue spelled out so exactly. The pop culture stuff within the novel was interesting but I've never been one for conspiracy theories and prefer to read my history straight -- not that I don't believe that fan fiction, which I kind of somewhat consider this to be, isn't a worthy enterprise, it completely is, but you have to accept and believe the action for it to work, and I just didn't with this book.

In the end, I finished it, but I did a lot of complaining while reading. I knew when my RRHB said, "What a great cover," that the book probably wasn't going to be for me -- and even though I enjoyed Nathan's almost hapless way of finding himself in the middle of the action and, like I said, am in awe of Anderson's amazing pop culture inventive imagination, on the whole I wanted just a tad bit more resolution and reality within this book. He could have gone even further with the satire and I would have enjoyed it more. I guess, that's what I'm trying to get at -- this book just didn't know exactly what it wanted to be (from my perspective). So, I have mixed emotions about this book. I want to support the writer, I think he's got an interesting talent, but the novel, overall, didn't really work for me.

But I think I'm a better person for reading it. It's important to read out of your comfort zone (literary fiction) and see what other kinds of novels are being published. See what other writers are coming up with in the wee hours of the night when their imaginary characters are being chased down by men with not-so innocent motives. If I were to give a good comp for this book, it might be the film St John of Las Vegas, which I actually enjoyed a great deal. It's got the same quirky, "mis-happenstance" feel to it that the novel strives for.

WHAT'S NEXT: I've started the utterly delightful Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, and am already enjoying it immensely. Then, we're into the Americans: Amanda Boyden's first novel, Pretty Little Dirty I think it's called.

1 comment:

Zesty said...

I remember us seeing Julian Barnes read from Arthur and George when we went to the IFOA. My Dad loved it too.