An author bathing in the glory of publishing his debut novel heads to New York for his first book signing.
Simon Burchwood considers himself to be a writer at the pinnacle of his art. He believes that he has achieved recognition and fame, which, for him, are the most important accolades a man in his profession could think to achieve. Semegran’s (The Discarded Feast, 2017, etc.) novel opens with a boast: “I have become wildly more successful than I ever could have dreamed.” Simon is keen to share this assertion, and does so with everyone he meets. The truth is Simon appears to be a small-time author with a massively overinflated sense of self-importance who is on the cusp of publishing his first novel. The story charts his journey to New York, where he is to give a reading at a flagship bookstore, but first he will pay a visit to his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, in a bid to catch up with his childhood friend Jason. Seeing the streets where he grew up stirs up a cocktail of emotions, from mawkishness to disgust. Simon encounters his childhood sweetheart working in a strip joint, and realizes he still bears a resentment toward the kid who stole his prized Spider-Man comic. Yet he also knows that as a writer he is above small-town life, heading to New York with Jason, despite the fact he views him disparagingly as a “goddamn pig.” In Simon, the author has created a psychologically complex character that is difficult to like or tolerate. Written in the first person, Simon’s narrative is consistently abrasive and repetitive: “I gobbled up my second omelet as quickly as the first, and found myself licking my goddamn fingers and smacking my goddamn lips and scraping the edge of my goddamn plate with my fork like a goddamn heathen.” Semegran seems to channel Charles Bukowski’s muscular style but delivers a tired, ersatz version. Ironic or not, it becomes wearing after several pages. Nevertheless, the close-to-the-bone novel captures perfectly the intensely solipsistic nature of a certain type of author—one who arrogantly lauds the importance of his craft over others, yet ultimately favors public adoration over creative endeavor. But a clever and surprising twist fails to rescue what is often a tiresome read.
A flawed tale, despite some cutting observations of the writerly demeanor.