When a Novel Might be Better as a Series

The People We Hate at the Wedding

By Grant Ginder

For a novel trumpeted in the jacket copy as hilarious, you’ll find the humor sporadic and often deprecating, both self and towards others. But you would probably expect such from a cast of characters, mother Donna, deceased father Bill, son Paul, daughter Alice, and Donna’s daughter from a previous marriage Eloise, who are less than likable (except maybe for Eloise and her overly nice and supremely contented fiancee Ollie). Everybody has issues with each other; everybody has issues with themselves; everybody, except for mellow Ollie, is wildly neurotic. Imagine them together at Eloise’s wedding and you picture something riotously funny or riotously bloody. Regrettably, you’ll not get much of either in the end here. To boot, everything proves too predictable.

The story turns on a deeply held family secret kept by Donna about Paul and his father Bill to protect Paul from a harsh and painful truth, known only by one other person, Eloise. From this stems much of the anger, resentment, and neurotic behavior in the novel. Settings are L.A., St. Charles, IL (you don’t see this much in novels), Philadelphia, London and Dorset. The novel features some explicit sexual scenes not everybody will be happy to encounter, though they are critical to Paul’s story. And sorry to report, but Paul’s tale revolves around some pretty unfortunate gay stereotyping.

In its favor, this is the type of novel that could make a compelling cable or streaming limited series in the hands of the right producers and showrunner, perhaps, if we’re lucky, like Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which was very popular in print and on HBO. w/c

Advertisements

Love a Good Literary Conspiracy?

The Night Ocean

By Paul La Farge

Paul La Farge conjures up a myth regarding the sexual life of weird science writer H. P. Lovecraft.  In best metafiction style, he makes it feel so real that you find yourself wondering and then searching for a copy of the supposed “Erotonomicon,” purported to be Lovecraft’s own account of his love life, particularly his relationship with Robert Barlow, author and anthropologist, when Barlow was a thirteen-year-old boy.

To further the ruse, La Farge has even created a webpage for the reissuing of the volume by fictitious Black Hour Books. Further, he festooned the book with dozens of real science fiction and fantasy writers, most still well known within the genre, and footnotes, all of which lends further veracity to the tale. It’s all quite masterfully done, and educational to boot.

He then couches all this in a mystery concerning a freelance writer, Charlie Willett, who writes a book claiming that Barlow did not commit suicide in 1951 (which he did, of course; La Farge even includes a copy of his death certificate in the novel text, but who wants to believe truth when fantasy is so much more appealing?). In Charlie’s telling, Barlow authored the “Erotonomicon,” which he explains in his book titled “The Book of the Law of Love.” When, after enjoying considerable notoriety, Charlie’s book is exposed as completely wrong. In despair, he kills himself. It’s left to his wife Marina Willett, a psychiatrist, to discover who wrote the “Erotonomicon” and for what purpose.

Here’s where the whole affair gets even more delicious. Enter L. C. Spinks, whom Marina hunts down in Parry Sound, Ontario (yes, a real town). Is the “Erotonomicon” real and witten by Barlow? L. C. Spinks tell his story, the real origin of the “Erotonomicon.” Wait, though, is it real? Is Spinks who he professes to be? Time for yet another unraveling of fact and fiction.

Here’s the thing about The Night Ocean: the fiction about Lovecraft, about the “Erotonomicon,” even about L. C. Spink’s version of how it “truly” came about, all of it proves much more satisfying than the reality revealed at the end. And what are you, the reader, left with at the end? Well, engaged as you become in myth and make-believe, in the concoction of fibs and big lies, you begin to understand the attraction that conspiracies hold for even the most rational among us.  For don’t we all just hate loose ends and voids, not to mention uncomfortable and unsatisfying reality? The experience of The Night Ocean (incidentally, the title of a story filled with a subtext of sexual longing written by Lovecraft and Barlow in the time they shared), in addition to being quite a story, helps us understand the attraction.

(Please note that La Farge’s little subterfuge with Black Hour Books can be maddening. If you are curious, click on Black Hour Books.) w/c