Title: Paperback Writer: A Novel
Author: Stephen Bly
Length: 342 pgs
Summary: Paul James Watson is your typical midlist paperback novelist. He lives a typical middle class life with a devoted wife, loving children, and a cabin in the woods of Montana. His life is a little too “perfect, flat, routine, unimpressive,” and his spiritual life is about the same. Thus, Watson turns to his writing to bring the spark back, by indulging in his character, Toby McKenna, a sort of James Bond/Indiana Jones persona. As Watson writes his next novel, McKenna begins to take over, and soon the lines of reality and fiction blur to the point that Watson “may well be lost.”
pg 16 – Everything waits. Like street gangs in a dark alley, real life waits in ambush. If I glance up more than two minutes from my writing, real life imprisons me.
pg 26 – There is something innocent and healthy about the way a woman never forgets how to giggle.
pg 29 – “Do you mean you actually have something published?”
“A number of books. But sometimes my imagination runs away with me, and I live a scene out before it happens. While I was standing here waiting, I sort of lived out this scene. That’s how I knew about the phone call.”
“That’s really weird. Does it always turn out the way you imagine it?”
He stared at the large lady and thought about a fictional lady named Carrie. “It seldom, if ever, turns out the way I imagine it,” he replied.
She tugged on the sagging lobe of her triple-pierced ear. “Are you sure you aren’t a drug dealer?”
pg 147 – “You mean a whole lot more than just a friend, Paul Watson. She leans on you, P.J., and sooner or later a lady who leans on you will want to hug you. And after she hugs on you awhile, she will want to kiss you. And after she kisses you, she will want you to kiss her back.” [said McKenna, the fictional character.]
“Where did you hear all that nonsense?” Watson challanged.
“The Lady’s Other Tiger, remember?”
“I made it up.”
“You mean, it’s not true?”
“I don’t know if it’s true. It just sounded good.”
pg 296 – “When you’re visiting with a lady, listen to more than her words. Seventy-five percent of what a woman wants to say is never put into words. Listen to her heart, her tone. Pay attention to her posture. Study her eyes. Don’t ever take her literal words as the whole story. It never is.”
Why should you read this book?
This was an interesting premise: we’re in the mind of a paperback writer. He talks to his semi-famous character, Toby McKenna, on the drive home from his motel stay. Half of the time he isn’t actually doing anything, he’s just “living out the scene before it happens.” Which makes for one confused reader. At first, I thought it was so clever, how the narrative seamlessly switched from “reality” to “fiction.” I could relate; after all, what writer doesn’t go back and mentally rewrite a conversation gone wrong, or imagine a future conversation so that you get the words just right?
But it got old pretty quick, especially when I lost track of what was actually happening, who was actually real, and what was the point of the narrative. Watson talks to Toby, and when Toby annoys him with his debauchery, he tells Toby to go away and starts a dialogue with God, though, God never replies. By the end of the book, we have some sort of closure, and we know who was real and who wasn’t, I think, but the “real” plot is so haphazard that my disbelief was not suspended, and I feel cheated. An interesting idea with a not-so-great implementation.