Monday, March 7, 2011
Blind Submission meets The Tender Bar meets The Truman Show
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.
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.