I imagine it has to be fairly uncomfortable being a first time author, especially in fiction. With non-fiction (assuming you’ve done your research and everything is factually correct), usually the worst thing someone can say is that your writing is dry (or I assume this to be the case because I find much non-fiction to be tedious, if necessary, reading).
But for fiction… your audience is more subjective. Someone who likes Francine Rivers will probably not enjoy Charles Bukowski. And so, out of the gate, I’m going to warn you: I really enjoyed Flatscreen, but if you don’t like books with drugs, sex, debauchery, or lots of crass language… you won’t like it.
Now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “James, what do you mean by crass? I’ve read a bit of salty literature in my time, dear boy, and I assure you that I won’t drop my monocle in surprise when I read a rude word or two.”
OK, well to weed you out as a reader I’m going to quote a passage below. If you find yourself disliking this passage, you can definitely pass on the novel. Here goes:
You’ve been warned!
“Wanted to say, ‘Father, have you ever licked butt cheeks in moonlight or sucked fat clit while Otis Redding comes crinkled with static over the radio in your 1968 Ford Sedan?”
OK are any of you still here? I mean, I know I have few regular readers as it is, but… at least one of you stuck around through that, haven’t you? Well good. Now I can begin the review proper.
Flatscreen is an example of a slacker novel. Eli Schwartz graduated from high school and has done very little since. A townie of Quinosset, Massachusetts (a fictional, but very accurate Boston suburb), Eli does little more than sit around his house fantasizing. What about? Well, to give a short list… Sex, drugs, movies, sex in movies, being a famous chef, sex with girls, drinking, sex with mothers, cooking… well, obviously, I could go on.
Eli narrates the novel like a less right-wing Rorschach (see: Watchmen) with a very stilted manner of internalizing his thoughts. Often times, he’ll leave out pronouns (i.e.: “On the way home, shamed, still made of rubber, enjoying the cool air, saw Dan’s maid struggle with two large plastic grocery bags”) and it can often be tough to keep up with who he’s talking to until you adjust.
But the centerpiece of this novel is the humor. The book is literally laugh-out-loud funny and full of lines and passages that I often had to read twice to get double my pleasure. Eli is an awkward failure in every aspect of his life… no job, still living with his mother, and his only friends are the town’s drug dealer and the aging movie star who just bought Eli’s mother’s house, causing the Schwartz family to have to move into a duplex and become social lepers in the status-hungry suburb.
Awkwardness ensues for Eli just about everywhere. He sends long, uncomfortable status messages to the girl he’s in love with (this week), gets high and passes out in the end zone of his high school’s football field (and no I will NOT spoil the true joy of THAT particular scene), and several wonderfully awkward sexual experiences that need to be read to be believed.
One of Eli’s main obsessions, besides women, drugs, and booze, is film. He’s constantly recognizing aspects of his life in regards to popular film and, in the last third of the novel, constantly taking nearly every other chapter to give a new ending to his story… if only it were a film (there’s an indie ending, a Hollywood drama ending… the list goes on).
Another interesting aspect is that in the first two thirds of the book, just about every other chapter is a list of some kind that Eli has made up. Sometimes, it’ll be questions for his father (as in the crass quote posted above), other times, he’ll give facts about his mother, backstory on his obsession with Latina women, or imagined dialogue between himself and a love interest. Outside of the constant awkwardness, these sections are the funniest bits of the novel.
Unfortunately for you, Flatscreen is not available yet. My copy is an advance reader and the book itself won’t be available until late Feb\early March 2012, but please! If you like awkward, dirty humor with a bit of a Horatio Alger (almost!) journey… pick this up when it comes out. Make it easy on a first time author.