Associated Press reporter Molloy plumbs the shady side of his trade in a graceless debut about a narcissistic muckraker with delusions of grandeur.
Our narrator is 29-year-old Scott Thomas, a TV journalist mourning a recent relationship wrecked in part by his lack of scruples. In his quest to get famous, Scott agrees to go undercover, shooting in the inflammatory documentary style made famous by a host of filmmakers in the past decade. His target is the greasy kitchens of Gringo’s Southwestern Mexican Grille, a fast-food joint in Tempe, Ariz., instantly recognizable as the doppelgänger of a certain real-life franchise. He needs to move quickly: A loophole that protects the network from legal liability is about to close, and the chain is owned by Glen Ferndekamp, likely to be the next U.S. Secretary of Labor. Molloy tries to wring humor from very thin cloth by exposing his vegan environmentalist protagonist to the horrors of driving an SUV and the rigors of consuming the local cuisine. “In drug movies the hero narc has to do heroin to keep his cover…I have to eat carne asada,” Scott moans. Instead of running with the gags that actually hit the mark, like the profane but enthusiastic work song warbled by Mexican crewmates Juan and Carlos, the author obsesses over the none-too-subtle mechanics of unprincipled reporting and Scott’s tepid affair with his handler, Keegan. The primary moral dilemma, defending a pregnant coworker against the unwelcome advances of their racist, sexist supervisor, is flagrantly telegraphed. The ironic twist that derails the investigation is even more obvious, but it accomplishes the narrator’s goals in ways he hadn’t imagined. Molloy apes the least appealing aspects of Nick Hornby’s humor and the flattest instances of Bret Easton Ellis’s prose, then follows his own badly clichéd instincts to produce a novel at least as gross as the fast food Scott chokes down.
A throwaway product not worth the paper it’s printed on.