MEN IN BLACK by Scott Spencer


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 The guilt of a struggling writer/family man is writ large in the latest from Spencer (Secret Anniversaries, 1990, etc.), but the tired theme doesn't support the fine prose and skillfully rendered characters. Sam Holland is a boyishly exuberant novelist--well-respected if not financially well-rewarded--who can no longer afford to keep his wife and two kids in New York City. Relocating upstate, then, Sam turns to penning various hack books under pseudonyms. His latest, Visitors From Above, is a conspiracy-fueled book about UFOs and aliens with the assertion that men in black, who could be aliens or government agents, are spreading disinformation and intimating the truth about an upcoming space invasion. When Visitors unexpectedly becomes a national bestseller, Sam is pressured to undertake a book tour under his pseudonym, John Retcliffe--which also happens to be the pen name of the Polish postal worker who authored Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the hate-filled book that the Nazis used to justify their pogrom against Jews. At the same time Sam's son has run away after finding a letter from Sam's mistress in New York. When the affair ends, the mistress threatens to expose Sam as a fraud, both as writer and husband. While on the road, Sam must juggle mixed emotions about his hack success, the disappearance of his son, and his wife's anger at him for not being at home to help with the domestic crisis. Spencer is at his best in describing the subtle details of interpersonal family relations, yet the plot strains when his hero's first-person narration suddenly gives way to an omniscient voice viewing the family after Sam hits the road. Also, Sam's obsession with hackdom versus art while trying to support a family seems a little overwrought and belabored. A guilt-drenched walk on well-trod ground.

Pub Date: April 16th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-43452-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995


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