I have a love/hate relationship with this book. Just like those stupid rubber bands that I must rely on to eke out proper pull ups, forever struggling to get my foot through the loop, until I can do one on my own. Necessary and helpful, thrilling but completely annoying.
According to his enthusiastic statement of endorsement, Stephen King says that About the Author is “[a] thriller worthy of Hitchcock at his best. Splendid suspense.” Indeed, I gobbled this book from beginning to end in two days, on lunch breaks and free evenings. As a wannabe writer, I could certainly identify with the lead character, Cal Cunningham, but to a degree. Here’s the publisher’s plot blurb:
Just how did Cal Cunningham – a twenty-five-year-old bookstore stockboy who is new to Manhattan and who has never written anything – publish a bestselling novel that sells to the movies for a million dollars? A mysterious roommate, a timely bike accident, and the rapacious literary agent Blackie Yaeger all play a role in Cal’s success. Deception, blackmail, and murder all play a role in his desperate bid to hold on to it. And About the Author is his first-person account of how he performed this remarkable feat.
First of all, I should probably mention that I was hooked from page one, and my interest did not waver until the very end. However, the last few pages lost me. Don’t get me wrong: this novel is unbelievably well written. I mean, completely and utterly. At times, it reminded me of Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters – it was really that good, and crazy. But it’s the plot wrap-up on page 241 that makes me cringe, just a little, at Colapinto’s characterization of Janet Greene, Cal’s head-over-heels love interest. The way she is able to forgive so easily is more than just mildly unsettling. It’s outright ridiculous. Can Cal be trusted? Is he a reliable narrator? Well, obviously Janet thinks so. The reader, on the other hand – or, at least, this reader – doesn’t. About the Author is a mess of morality and technicalities… which is what makes the novel such a fascinating, fast-paced, interesting read.
The way Cal describes the literary scene in New York, writer’s block, and the desire to tell a good story, is a fascinating and satirical examination of art culture. Most captivating was his (Colapinto’s?) description of the creative process:
Stewart was, as usual, pounding away on his typewriter next door, so I screwed in a pair of foam earplugs. Then I cracked my knuckles, adjusted my chair, squared up the sheet of paper, cracked my knuckles again, readjusted the sheet of paper…
Perhaps I was a little hungry after all. I’d been hauling crates of remainders all morning at the bookstore. I was fucking famished. No wonder I was having trouble getting to work. I got up, went into the kitchen, and slapped some ham between two slices of bread. I ate standing up by the sink, rinsing the sandwich down with a glass of milk.
I went back to my desk to write a novel.
I had always assumed that when the time came, it would be a simple matter to translate the swing, snap, and verve of my Sunday-morning monologues onto paper. It wasn’t. After two hours, I still had not written one word.
Oh, how true this scenario rings. Staring at the blank page, willing something to appear, is like a exercise in futility. Exhausting, yet unsurprising. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is just write the first word, then the first sentence. Good grief, I cannot begin to express. But Cal… well, he’s in a unique situation. The Stewart mentioned in this excerpt, the one who’s hammering away on his typewriter, is writing something too. He’s definitely not blocked. Colapinto, however, muddies the moral waters of this story by making this plot one of mutual plagiarism. Perhaps that’s too strong a word. Let’s say “appropriation.” Stewart appropriates Cal and, in return, Cal appropriates Stewart. Does that make sense? Probably not. You’ll have to read the novel to see what I mean.
You can decide if this means Cal is somehow off the guilt hook. Does he deserve to get off on technicalities? Hmm… not sure ’bout that. Do you think Janet’s reaction fits her character? And what about Les, Cal’s bisexual blackmailer? Where does she fit into all of this? As you can tell, About the Author is a bit of a moral quagmire. If you’ve seen Woody Allen’s Match Point, I think you’ll have a clearer idea of what I’m trying to articulate. The notion of guilt and (unearned) luck somehow converge in Colapinto’s novel in unusual, thoughtful, yet off-putting, ways.