What do you suppose I like about it?
Back to the workaday.

Ooh, bait and switch, tricky.

Novelist The other day I read Steve Hely's new novel How I Became a Famous Novelist. The title of this one interested me, of course, and it had been recommended to me by someone I trust,* so I thought, I'll give it a try. And then I experienced a rather specialized situation: I loved it, absolutely loved it, for the first 310 pages. And then...I read the ending. And was completely underwhelmed. Downright disappointed might be a more accurate description, actually.

Has this ever happened to you? It doesn't happen to me very often, I'll admit; typically, if I dislike a book for the first 50 pages or chapter or so, I'm going to keep on disliking it, and often if I'm loving a book at page 100, I'll still be loving it on its last page. (Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It had me at the very first line, and never gave me up; ditto with Salinger's Franny and Zooey, not to mention Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.)

Hely's novel has a great premise. Pete Tarslaw, a hollow shell of his former self since being dumped by his college girlfriend Polly, hears that she is getting married, and decides that he wants to become a rich and famous novelist by the time he has to attend her wedding (and can therefore rub her face in it, but you know, subtly so). So what does any logical young man do? He scours the bestseller lists, makes a list of characteristics that define successful novels, and then throws all those characteristics together in a book of his own. And the listing of the bestsellers and their titles is really the funniest thing in this book. I don't know who this Hely is but he's got the bestseller stereotypes down. These are a few of the novels he's going to try and emulate:

"Mindstretch, by Pamela McLaughlin. Trang Martinez suspects her Pilates instructor may also be a vicious serial killer.

The Balthazar Tablet, by Tim Drew. The murder of a cardinal leads a Yale professor and an underwear model to the Middle East, where they uncover clues to a conspiracy kept hidden by the Shriners.

A Whiff of Gingham and Pecorino, by Jennifer Austin-Meyers. On a hilltop villa in Sicily, an American divorcee finds new love with a local cheesemaker involved in a blood feud.

Cumin: The Spice that Saved the World, by Arthur Grunberg. How a rarely used seasoning occupies a central place in Western history."

Now, those are pretty clever parodies of today's bestselling fiction titles. And this novel, overall, is quite clever. I'm not going to tell you how it ends, because I think I'm still recommending it. In fact, I demand that you read this book so we can talk about the ending. I think it fell prey to a little--gasp--sentimentality, and I am not a fan of sentimentality. But if anyone else has read it or is going to read it, let me know what you thought.

*Hi, Katharine! (I still liked this one overall, and am very glad I read it, so thank you!)