Monday, March 7, 2011

Blind Submission meets The Tender Bar meets The Truman Show

Let's start the week off with a bang...

Faking Life
by Jason Pinter

The title of this review refers to a thriller set at a literary agency, a memoir of life at a bar, and a film about an everyman whose life is controlled by a puppet master. Throw them in a Cuisinart and you’ve got a reasonable approximation of Jason Pinter’s Faking Life.

The novel is indeed a thriller set at a literary agency. As the novel opens, Esther Williams (whose swimming namesake is never referenced) is reviewing submissions to literary agent Nico Vanetti, her boss and mentor. Nico was once at the top of the literary food chain, but these days he’s on his way down. He’s got all kinds of personal problems, and he doesn’t have the instincts for picking winners that he once did. That’s why, when Esther discovers the partial manuscript from unknown bartender John Gillis, she’s prepared to fight for it. She knows his memoir has huge potential.

Esther takes the first round, and soon enough even Nico realizes he has a potential goldmine in Gillis—if only there were a bit more excitement to his tale. Towards that end, the Machiavellian Nico begins—for lack of a better word—screwing with the unwitting bartender’s life. He messes with John’s job at the bar, and he wants the memoir to have a love interest. Here, he directs Esther into the picture. Esther’s torn between knowing what Nico’s doing is wrong and her own growing attraction to the writer through his words.

Okay, that sounds pretty good, right? Not a bad premise at all, or so I thought. However, when I purchased the novel, I didn’t know what Pinter would reveal in his foreword: “I began writing this book back in 2002, while I was a student at Wesleyan University.” Okay, so this isn’t the work of the seasoned bestselling author. That might have been good to know before I clicked “purchase.” Even more telling was the first sentence of the author’s note: “This book wasn’t supposed to be published.” I’m taking that quote slightly out of context, but it’s worth sharing because it’s the most honest sentiment in Faking Life. This manuscript should have stayed buried in the drawer it was moldering in.

The book is ridiculously contrived. For instance, John Gillis is presented as the second coming of Randy Pausch. We are treated to lengthy excerpts of his supposedly life-altering inspirational memoir. What we actually get are mediocre blog postings that are at times almost painful to read. Also, I don’t think it takes too much insider publishing knowledge to realize that people don’t do business this way! I’m not talking about the Machiavellian stuff. It is fiction, after all. I’m talking about the fact that editors do not make multi-million-dollar preemptive bids on books whose full manuscripts they’ve never seen. I’m talking about the fact that careers in publishing are not ruined because a man slept with his housekeeper. In 2011, you do not FedEx in daily page submissions to your agent; we have a thing called email now. And being unfinished is not considered an asset in a manuscript. Don’t even get me started on the relationships—all of them.

The story is contrived. The characters are shallow, unbelievable, and largely unsympathetic. The writing is… not good. Hats off to you if you can get past these deficiencies, because that’s only the beginning. Not only is it abundantly clear that Mr. Pinter didn’t spend a moment updating this school project, it’s obvious that neither he nor anyone has proofread this since 2002, if ever. I can’t resist sharing a few (dozen) quotations:

• “Thankfully John had been blessed with good genes, a fats [sic] metabolism.”
• “Paul had been trying to [sic] hard for so long…”
• “…tickling a twenty until [sic] John’s nose.”
• “Some days I feel like a prostitute, brandying [sic] my goods behind a wooden counter…” Brandishing?
• “Things hadn’t worked out between Paul and the [sic] Kendra…”
• “Just once, he was hoping to meet someone who didn’t [sic] the outside world tugging at them 24/7.”
• “I don’t understand what [sic] you’re having such a hard time.”
• “John eyed him for a moment, wiped the sauce from hi [sic] face…”
• “Jon [sic] gasped and felt his legs grow weak.”
• “He received a call back a week later saying [sic], and a contract was in the mail the next day.”
• “You go so you can tell your friends you were [sic] sat where Norm and Cliff did.”
• “His parent’s [sic] mailbox…”
• “But how many people can say that [sic] love that [sic] they do for a living.
• “They declined coffee and desert. [sic]”
• “…he was so full that desert [sic] probably would have…”
• “…his arm grazing her check [sic], her skin warm and inviting.”
• “Tears rolled down her check [sic], but she made no move to pull her hand back.”
• “The apartment looked like it had been witness to a viscous [sic] bar fight.”
• “Broken glass and empty beers [sic] bottles littered the floor.”
• “People liked to read about scandal and martial [sic] problems.”
• “…a package wrapped in shin [sic] blue foil…”
• “He looked up, his eyes tired, yes [sic] strangely hopeful.”
• “He’d have to convince Marlene Van Tripp of he [sic] same…”
• “Esther slowly gently [sic] and leaned forward.”
• “You might as well save the energy and give [sic] to me.”
• “I hope to share a pint with him [sic] Slappy’s Two someday.”
• “Nico was sitting in his leather chair, the collar of his blue Oxford shit [sic] folded up around his neck.”

That last is my favorite. And, folks, that is nowhere near a comprehensive list of the errors within this text. In his author’s note, Mr. Pinter writes, “I don’t consider FAKING LIFE the evolution of my career, but a glimpse at an early work that I am proud of, despite its flaws.” Really? Personally, I call this a profound embarrassment and I’m stunned that you put your name on it.


  1. There are a lot of people curious about his departure from agenting and/or Waxman. He has yet to comment, but likes to comment on many, many things. It was very sudden, he seems to have been erased from the agency website, but everywhere else has him still listed with them. Does anyone know what is up? How does this affect our submissions to him and/or Waxman agency?

  2. Coming from a reviewer who I know likes to focus on the positive, this book must be bad indeed! I am surprised that an author who is a former editor would put out such a substandard piece. Hopefully his next endeavor will be more in line with what his fans hope to see. Not to mention more enjoyable to review!

  3. Hi Midwest Author,

    I wouldn't know anything about that. I'd suggest you contact the agency. But thanks for stopping by.

    Hi Care,

    Thanks so much for your supportive words. I don't believe that this novel is typical of Mr. Pinter's work. As was noted (repeatedly), it was written when he was very young. Perhaps I'll give his series a try some day. Oh, I just checked... I already have his debut thriller, The Mark, loaded on my Kindle. Hmmmm...


  4. It would be interesting for you to read and review that, but I know that your schedule is demanding. You did make it clear in your piece that it was a very early work. I must admit, I am very curious to read one of his later works, as I have never read anything by him, and it has been a long time since I read a good thriller. Hmmm...

    So, I dashed over and checked the ebook price for my Nook: $5.54, so I clicked purchase. It got very favorable reviews overall. I am putting it as my next ebook in que and will let you know what I think if I finish it before you.

  5. Care,

    You've proved it: There IS no such thing as bad publicity! I can't wait to see your review. I hope you love it.


  6. I find the concept of a "viscous bar fight" intriguing. I'm not sure I could have gotten far in a book with that many stupid typos and sloppy rewriting mistakes.