Sandy Mulligan is a renowned author, but he’s hit a crisis. He’s left his wife and children for someone else, and it didn’t work out. Now he’s taken to the hinterlands to try to write the book he’s contracted to produce. Meanwhile, he runs across John Salteau, who claims to be an Ojibway storyteller, but it doesn’t ring quite true. Like Mulligan, Salteau is hiding from something. And if that isn’t enough, we have Kat Danhoff, herself a refugee of sorts, and she has landed in the same tiny burg, first to write about Salteau, and then to write about Mulligan interviewing Salteau. And before I can say more, I need to tell you that this clever satirical work was given me free of charge by Net Galley and Simon and Schuster in exchange for this honest review. It goes up for sale on February 9, 2016.
Early in the book we read of Mulligan’s infidelity, and I have to tell you, reader, that the explicit sex scenes and above all, the words selected to describe them, are not words that I am comfortable with. I am from the Boomer generation; if you are younger and don’t mind passages of erotica dropped into your novel, you might find this is a five star read for you. I was horrified, and read through it quickly.
Where are my smelling salts?
Where were we? Ah yes, the story. The dialogue in this thing is absolutely hilarious at times, and although Mulligan’s literary agent is a secondary character, I loved the sly, deliberate way Sorrentino crafted what we must regard as the typical agent, one who just wants him to write something, anything for heaven’s sake, so they don’t lose the deal. If Mulligan needs to retreat to the wilderness of Northern Michigan, then fine. Go. “Go walk in the footsteps of Hemingway, catch a trout or something…”
Mulligan does a lot of walking, alrighty, but what he does not do, is write. The internal dialogue is rich in many places; in a few, I wanted a red pen to edit it down a bit. The fact is, Mulligan is an exasperating character, but that’s okay; he is intended to be so. Not every protagonist is supposed to be lovable.
And so he ruminates endlessly, thinking of everything except his book. He recalls his affair, the one that snapped his already-fragile marriage like a twig. When the whole thing is over, he realizes that he could as easily had a conversation with the other woman’s underwear as he could have with her. But it’s too late now; water under the bridge. A lot of it.
Kat is from Chicago; she is married but also restless. She cheats in her marriage, but doesn’t turn it into a spectacle the way Mulligan does. Her work involves travel, and what Justin doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
Underlying all of this is the question of the storyteller, John Salteau. He’s a fake. Danhoff can smell it a mile away. At one point she witnesses him telling school children a Nigerian folk tale. What the hell? Her journalist antennae twitch, and she is on a mission.
Sorrentino is not a novice, and has been nominated for the National Book Award for Sound on Sound, a novel he published in 1995. His experience shows. His capacity to render setting immediate (and sometimes really funny) is important, because he constantly changes it up, bouncing us back and forth to the points of view of three different characters, switching from first person to third in the wink of an eye. If he isn’t proficient, the reader will get lost. As it is, this is a hyperliterate read, which suits me just fine, but if your mother tongue is not English, you might want to consider something else.
No one could possibly predict the way this story ends!
Recommended for those that love strong fiction.