Friday, January 17, 2014

The Serialist by David Gordon

Here’s something I haven’t done before: read two books by the same author one after another. I’d never heard of David Gordon until I came across a very funny essay by him in the NY Times Magazine one Sunday this January. In the essay he explains that his debut novel was mostly ignored in the U.S. but was widely admired in Japan, where he won three literary prizes and sold the film rights. Gordon, bewildered and mute in a country where he didn't speak the language, was hosted in Tokyo when the film came out and ushered about by adoring fans.

Gordon’s main character, Harry Bloch, is the quintessential hack writer: he did his research into what kind of fiction is selling at the bookstore chains and decided to incorporate those elements in the writing he did for different publications. Vampires and werewolves. Serial Killers. True Crime. Mystery. Urban. Soft Porn. Whatever. He’s got it all going, with ideas to spare. He even created new names and faces (!) for each authorial persona.

Harry Bloch is contacted by a serial killer, Darian, to be the ghost writer of his story before Darian is executed. Bloch acquires a teenaged “agent” and, after meeting some of the relatives of the murdered victims of his serial killer, acquires a friend and lover called Dani.

Interspersed throughout this story of the process of ghost-writing are examples of some of the work Bloch had been doing to keep food on the table. It is here we encounter vampires and soft-porn, keeping readers laughing and awake to the author’s next move. Bloch also addresses the reader directly, making them complicit in his writing: He suggests that he is trying to “establish the intimacy of first-person voice, so you’ll follow me anywhere,” and “I don’t know about you, but I hate coming to the end of a mystery.” Throughout the novel he prods us: we readers “should have figured it out by now” because he “gave us enough clues.”

In the final pages, Gordon/Bloch gives us some of his philosophy about writing and life, which is: it’s not the beginning or the end of a novel (or life) that is most difficult. It is the middle. And I guess that flies in the face of most author interviews I have read, but it may be true in the case of real life. We’ll see.

Gordon reminds me a little of Jess Walter, endlessly inventive, determined to appeal, and laughing with (at?) us the same time. And he is really funny. But Gordon has an edge that bleeds.

I had to read Gordon’s second novel, Mystery Girl to see if Gordon betrays my confidence as he did in The Serialist, and if his sense of humor still keeps me rapt. Review here.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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