Deft, jolly send-up of publishing by actor and former TV writer/host Nelson (Mike Nelson’s Mind Over Matters, 2002), this about a hack who learns, after 40 years of failure, the meaning of concept.
Pontius (“Ponty”) Feeb has published 18 books, though you won’t find them in Barnes and Noble. That’s because Ponty wrote exclusively for Jack Pine Publications, a Minneapolis house that specialized in titles like Old Von Steuben Had a Farm: The German-American Settlement of the Midwest and The Journal of Plasma Beam Annealing. But obscurity is fine for Ponty, who lives alone and takes real pride in his work—although when Jack Pine is sold to a media conglomerate in Denver, Ponty is dropped faster than a midlist novel. Suddenly destitute, he takes a job flipping patties at Medieval Burger while trying to market a horror manuscript about a giant rat loosed on a Minnesota town in the 19th century. No one is interested in publishing a thriller by an overweight 60-year-old, so Ponty asks hunky young Jack Rybeck (an aspiring actor who works at Medieval Burger) to be his “front.” Jack agrees and manages to snag a contract, but he mistakenly tells the publishers that Death Rat is a true story. Not a problem if the book had flopped, but with Jack gobbling up national publicity (“the perfect author for the nouveau-pop age,” says a reviewer), Death Rat soars to the top and brings the media out in force. To escape exposure, Ponty and Jack convince the townsfolk of Holey, Minnesota, to go along with Ponty’s fiction and make up ancestral tales of rat terror for the reporters. Meanwhile, egomaniacal author Gus Bromstad has gotten wind of rumors that Death Rat is going to beat him out for the Dwee Award, and he’s hired a shadowy group of Danish hit men to rub out Jack.
Fast-paced, outrageous, and on the money: first-novelist Nelson’s mockery of media mendacity is as biting as La Dolce Vita or Network—and funnier.