A young New York writer (no—keep reading: it’s actually good) capitalizes on the talent of his late roommate and hits it big. For a while.
Such laughs as there are in this dark, deft comedy are nervous and sweaty, but the tension is the real thing in a smart literary thriller by the author of As Nature Made Him (nonfiction: 2000). Cal Cunningham, disowned for his authorial ambition by his physician father, dreams of pleasing his late book-loving mother with a literary career. But the clock has been ticking for years, and Cal’s closest approach to the world of letters is a bookstore job that barely supports his after-hours debauchery. The only story-spinning on his schedule is the regular debriefing requested by Cal’s nerdy flatmate Stewart Church, a near-monastic legal student who wants to hear all the details of Cal’s dalliances in the fleshpots of Manhattan. Stewart’s tolerance is tested when, after a night of gymnastic sex, one of Cal’s sleazier conquests makes off with fenceable items from the flat, including Stewart’s laptop. And Cal’s tolerance is really tested when he learns that Stewart has been filling his nonlegal moments writing. Beautifully. Not only a flawlessly publishable short story, but a spectacularly good novel based entirely on all those anecdotes from the life of his wastrel roommate. The fates choose to have Stewart run over on his bicycle, and Cal, stepping in, instantly claims the book for his own. And it’s a hit. A Hollywood contract leads to a huge sum and indirectly to a meeting with the only other person who might know about the real authorship, Stewart’s beautiful, intelligent, totally wonderful ex-girlfriend. But that laptop the little popsy picked up in chapter one? It’s back, still loaded with Stewart’s original novel, and still in the clutches of the evil bit of crumpet. Cal’s totally wonderful new life begins to unravel faster than you can turn the pages.
The ending limps, but only after a sensational run.