A novelist on the ropes gets one last shot at redemption—and predictably screws it up, right on cue.
In this debut novel, Price offers up an acridly witty portrait of the artist in decline. We meet his protagonist, writer Richard Lazar, as he’s shaken awake from an Ambien-and-vodka-induced coma aboard an airplane. It turns out the aging pugilist of an author has been sent out on the unlikeliest of book tours for Without Leave, a memoir about his service in Vietnam. It’s not much, but it beats eking out an existence in a trailer park in Phoenix and annoying his estranged daughter, Cindy. Lazar is met by his student escort, Vance Allerby, a shy wannabe writer whose life has been dominated by his depressed mother. If there’s a theme to the book, it’s that the cliché of drinking writers is characteristically true, at least in this case—we follow Richard from bar to hotel room to bar for blackout drinking sessions. It’s only in rare moments that we learn that Lazar’s character isn’t really a cynic, just a disappointed optimist. "You asked me the other night, at the thing, what advice I’d give young writers,” Richard tells Vance. “And I gave you some glib answer, and I feel shitty about that. I probably acted like I think it’s all a waste of time, which I do, but still. Everything’s a waste of time, but books are better than everything else. There’s some kind of dumb honor in it, at least.” From here, the novel becomes a road comedy of sorts, interspersed with excerpts from Lazar’s novel, the core of which turns out to be as counterfeit as its creator. Price is a finely trained writer, and the novel recalls the late John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas in many respects.
Fans of literary writers will find much to appreciate here, while more casual readers are likely to view our man’s unraveling like a car crash, watching from between their fingers.