Saturday, October 12, 2013

Book Review: "The Salinger Contract" by Adam Langer

Wow, this was fun. Part mystery, part riff on the literary world, all completely compelling.

Adam Langer is a stay-at-home dad living in Bloomington, Indiana, caring for his two daughters, Beatrice and Ramona (sound familiar, Beverly Cleary fans?), while his wife Sabine, is a college professor. Adam fondly remembers his days as books editor for the now-defunct Lit magazine, which allowed him to meet authors whose careers he had admired.

His time with the magazine also fostered his own short-lived writing career, as he wrote one novel, Nine Fathers, a fictionalized account of his quest to find out who his biological father was. When the book was first published, and he was searching for authors to write blurbs for the book jacket, only one of the authors he met—crime writer Conner Joyce—agreed to write something. However, the book didn't sell well, and life (and lack of interest in the literary world) got in the way of Adam's writing a follow-up.

Fast forward a few years, and Adam has a chance encounter with Conner at a book signing of his latest book. Yet things have slowed down for Conner, as his last few books in his crime series haven't sold as well as his first, and readers and his publisher are starting to lose interest. And one night, while doing a reading in Chicago, Conner is approached by the bodyguard of a wealthy, eccentric man who makes him an offer that seems far too good to be true, and one he can't seem to refuse. The mysterious Dex wants Conner to write a new crime novel—and only Dex and his bodyguard will ever read it. Conner can tell no one about this deal, ever, and he can't ever publish the novel he writes. And in exchange, he'll receive far more money than he'd get otherwise.

"Well, we all have our own fantasy about our favorite authors, don't we?" "Which is what, exactly?" asked Conner. "That the author is speaking only to us, that he is writing only for us, that no one on Earth has the same relationship to that author as we do...That the author has written his book only for me."

While this deal seems both irresistible and impossible to fathom, this isn't the first time Dex has worked with an author on this type of arrangement. And he has the unpublished manuscripts from all of them—Salinger, Mailer, Harper Lee, Truman Capote. How can Conner refuse? But after Conner writes his crime novel—an exercise he finds far more freeing than writing his novels had ever felt—events start occurring that convince him that he's blundered into territory he couldn't imagine, and the only place he can turn is to Adam.

I'm a huge fan of Adam Langer's books. I really enjoyed all of his previous novels, Crossing California, The Washington Story, Ellington Avenue, and Thieves of Manhattan. (The latter was on my list of my favorite books of 2010.) I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but it drew me in pretty much immediately and kept me hooked. I had suspicions as to where the plot would go—some were right and some were wrong—but I was impressed by the creativity of Langer's premise and the way he unraveled his story. I also really enjoyed his skewering of the literary world.

This is a fun and tremendously interesting book, with enough suspense and action to keep you hooked. Of course, now that I've devoured this book, I'll have to wait a while for Langer's next, but I guess that's the price you have to pay...

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