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Jan 12

Review: How I Became a Famous Novelist

How I Became a Famous NovelistHow I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

Good humor straddles that razor’s edge between what we all know and what we dare not speak of. This novel started out balancing on that fine line very well. The protagonist, Pete Tarslaw, decides to write a novel so he can become famous and show up his ex-girlfriend at her wedding. Implausible, but funny.  I found myself alternating between laughing uproariously and laughing uncomfortably. “Ha ha! He’s making fun of writers and writing!” and then “Ouch. He’s making fun of writers and writing.” I had to read it in spurts, because it is painful when someone mocks something I hold very dear (novels and writing.)
The implausible becomes true as Pete’s extremely derivative novel hits just the right audience at just the right time and then inches its way up the bestseller list. There are quite a few opinions in this novel, for example, when Pete’s editor friend Lucy gets drunk and wails that she doesn’t know what’s good anymore, that no one does, that she signed the best novel she’d ever read and it sold only 46 copies, whereas crap shoots to the top of the bestseller list. And Pete goes to guest-lecture at a college writing course, and has nothing but scorn for all the MFA students caring so very much about their stories.

But at some point, the novel changes tone, and we were no longer sure who was putting on whom. At some point even Hely seems to step away from Pete’s unstoppable cynicism, and leaves his protagonist out to dry.

This is a funny book, but it’s not just funny. And it’s a novel, but it’s not just a novel because it has so much commentary on writers and writing. And it’s both pro-literary novel and pro-genre and anti-both of them. It’s as if 10 different people, all with wildly different opinions about writing, got together and wrote this book. Except it’s by one guy.

I liked it, but I found it odd.

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