Saturday, November 28, 2015

If You Know Nothing, Write About That

Review: Novel Concept by Dan Fiorella

Like so many New Yorkers, Max Federman has a book in him. The problem is he wants to write a hit, but the book his publisher wants is a non-starter for the best-seller list. 

Max reads those book lists; he knows what readers buy in droves. They want "rich-girl meets poor hunky guy and falls in love." They want "unknown beauty captures heart of royal heir." They want "daring spy assists voluptuous twins win revolutionary glory."

They want fantasy from a world Max has never dreamed of, let alone lived.

Rather than write the book he has thoroughly researched, the one his publisher desires, Max sets out to research the popular concept instead. Armed with the wit that Max Shulman used to give all his protagonists, Federman boards a cruise ship to Paris (persistently listed as "S.S. Gauche, bound for France" in the text), and proceeds to step into every social awkwardness a clueless stowaway can find.
Max lives in a section of NYC "inhabited by many aspiring creative types: writers, actors, musicians, performance artists, and, up until the tragic yet much appreciated Great Pantomime Massacre of ‘08, mimes."

He attracts the love of the "heiress to the French frogleg fortune," Candice LaPortune, who has chosen "an idyllic ocean cruise over the whirlwind body cavity search that was air travel." His shipboard romance novel is well underway until he is side-tracked by murder, and being tossed overboard into a crime novel.

Max barely gets into the drug syndicate mileau (in France, naturally, home of the "French Connection") before being pitch-forked into a psychic-prison-escape scenario in Turkey, from which he is railroaded into revolutionary intrigue in the near-kingdom of Lacertosa. You know, where Lucky Lindy landed before realizing it wasn't France.

My favorite comic novel of all time is Barefoot Boy with Cheek by Max Shulman. What Shulman did for college life, Fiorella has done for the popular concept novel. 

Novel Concept lies for me in the field of second-place ties for comic best, after Shulman's classic, alongside any adult novel by Christopher Moore or Dave Barry. And Fiorella may be edging Moore and Barry slightly.

Liner Notes

  • Fiorella has a habit of using the suffix "-esque"complete with hyphenwhich would be fine if only it were spelled correctly. (He consistently renders it "-sque." I gritted my teeth so hard, I popped out a filling!)
  • On the other hand, he references Danny Thomas, Charles Lindbergh, and Charlie Callas, admonishing the reader to "Google them" if confused.
  • A sneaky collection of linked footnotes includes its own joke.
  • I loved the ending, but it only works if you come to it naturally. Don't spoil it for yourself! (I certainly won't.)