A media escort in the Midwest’s most literary town spills the beans on the book business.
McNally (English/Wake Forest Univ.; Ghosts of Chicago, 2008, etc.) enthusiastically rakes the literary profession over the coals in his cutting fictional biography of Jack Hercules Sheahan, once a wunderkind of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a New Yorker–published writer with great potential and even greater opportunities. The novel smartly picks up Jack’s story a decade after his well has run dry, as he subsists by ushering famous and not-so-famous writers to their hotels, bookstore readings and many, many bars. In one bizarre week during a Midwestern snowstorm, Sheahan finds himself at the mercy of not only his bloodthirsty publicity contact in New York but also of a memoirist suffering a psychotic break and an arrogant East Coast hipster whose claim to fame is rewriting classics as modern-day fables. Our melancholic hero unapologetically misses the good old days: “It was a desire to live in a time I couldn’t possibly live in; a wish to meet people at a time in their lives that had already come and gone; a need to be a part of history in a way that I could no longer be.” Into this maelstrom drops the brilliant but reclusive novelist S.S. Pitzer, who disappeared years ago but has resurfaced to steal Jack’s unfinished first novel. McNally’s well-crafted text takes aim at everyone in the business—writers, agents, publishers, booksellers and even readers, crucifying each for their worst offenses—without ever reviling the art itself.
A ribald deconstruction, packed with literary in-jokes, of an industry in love with its own absurdities.