Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: "Any Resemblance to Actual Persons" by Kevin Allardice

Failed child sitcom actor-turned-unpublished author-turned-frustrated college instructor Paul McWeeney has a bit of a problem. His older sister, Edie, aided by memories she has suddenly "recaptured" (or imagined, as far as Paul is concerned), has decided that their Hollywood writer father was the perpetrator in the famed Black Dahlia case. And worse than that, Edie has put her memories down on paper—and this tell-all exposé is about to hit the presses, released by the one publisher Paul has so desperately wanted to work with for years.

While the fact that Edie is about to expose their late father as a violent murderer is certainly upsetting, what is truly sending Paul off the rails is that his sister, who has never succeeded at anything, is about to get her book published, while Paul, whose agent has allegedly been shopping his two novels around for years, can't catch a break. So he does the only sensible thing—he writes a letter to the publisher to tell them Edie is utterly wrong and they should cease and desist from publishing her book or face legal consequences.

"I will disprove all of this. Our father did no such thing. My sister is not of sound mind, and this should disqualify her from having a book published."

Any Resemblance to Actual Persons is Paul's ever-growing missive to the publisher. But in his effort to refute Edie's claims, Paul takes us on a meandering account of his unsatisfying teaching career, his frustration about not being published, his brief stint as a sitcom actor in the mid-1960s, his relationships with members of family, his lack of romantic luck, and pretty much everything else that crosses his mind as it crosses his mind. In short, Paul is about as unreliable as a narrator as he claims Edie is.

As Paul becomes more frantic to debunk his sister's accusations, he becomes even more mired in his own issues—and a growing dependency on Ritalin and other substances isn't helping his increasingly manic nature. Then he realizes that the best offense against Edie's claims is to find the real Black Dahlia killer (despite the fact that the case has baffled Los Angeles detectives for more than 60 years). And he comes up with one doozy of a theory.

"It's just that the more I write, the more I realize there's more to write, since I know what I need to offer here is not simply a dry wrangling of facts: I am also a character witness, after all, someone who can attest to the honorable character of George McWeeney and the mendacious, attention-seeking character of Edie McWeeney."

Paul is a pseudo-intellectual who believes he's far more erudite and knowledgeable than anyone else around him. His letter (all 250+ pages of it) grows more and more rambling, panicky, paranoid, and difficult to follow, as he finds himself unsure whether the memories he's citing are his own, Edie's, or something he's written in his own fictionalized accounts of his life. Some of this is tremendously amusing, but after a while, you begin to realize that Paul is, well, a bit of a bore. As Paul's grip on reality becomes more and more tenuous and his narrative grows more and more feverish, I started to lose interest and focused more on my wondering just how Kevin Allardice was going to tie up the plot rather than what Paul was saying.

Despite its challenges, this is a tremendously unique concept, and Allardice is an excellent writer, as Paul uses five words where one would do. His use of language is impressively creative, and I look forward to seeing where his career takes him.

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