Fiction 8. Biography



The Pleasure of My Company (Weidenfeld X. Nicolsori 5‘ l 7.9% .0.

It‘s a tricky task to read fiction by celebrities better known for their accomplishments in other fields. It becomes doubly difficult when that celebrity is no less a personage than Hollywood actor and comedian Steve Martin. And when his work of fiction is a slim, first person narrative, it’s almost impossible to tackle without imagining its protagonist as a tall, silver-haired, quirkily handsome goofball with a letter-box smile and - depending on how long it‘s been since you last saw Roxanne - an outrageously long proboscis.

Conveniently, the hero of Martin’s second novel, Daniel Pecan Cambridge, is a gangly hybrid of two of the star's more successful screen incarnations, The Jerk and The Man with Two Brains, merging the utter social ineptitude of the former with the latter’s sweet, romantic aspiration. Jobless and residing in a dingy, one-bedroom LA apartment. Daniel explains his current predicament as being due to a clerical error in his Mensa scoring, which sliced 100 points from his total IQ. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Daniel’s lack of upward mobility can be blamed largely on his obsessive compulsive leanings, involving a morbid fear of kerbs and a tendency to construct elaborate magic number squares.

Permanent relationships for Daniel come in the form of Elizabeth, an estate agent on whom Martin’s


How's this for a sentence? ‘The next peter day further south he changed trains

Steve Martin’s Mr Average is a screwed-up obsessive

protagonist spies as she shows clients around the swanky apartment block across the road. His fascination with her culminates in a clumsy, contrived meeting, a scene of real eyes~down embarrassment. Philipa and Brian, the volatile couple upstairs. also become an important part of our anti-hero’s limited orbit, with Daniel effectively drugging Philipa into spending time with him. And then there’s Clarissa, the well-meaning counsellor who offers Daniel the possibility of a normal life when she travels with him to Texas for his grandmother’s funeral.

Despite the eerie similarities between this premise and the plot of the Jack Nicholson-starring As Good as it Gets, Martin's novel passes an afternoon as a gently humorous, if rather inconsequential, tale that meanders to a predictably sentimental conclusion. Particularly funny is the sequence in which Daniel, seeking distraction from his empty existence, plunges himself into the Tepperton’s Pies essay-writing competition by creating a well-rounded alter ego named Lenny Burns, who then has to be killed off when the shortlist is announced.

Less successful, however, are the female characters, who tend to fit neatly into the brackets of power-bitch, slut, victim or angel and are all introduced from the legs up. This casual sexism eventually undermines the overall pleasure of the book, and has the effect of compromising Martin’s desire for us to view Daniel as a nice, Mr Average, who happens to be a bit screwed-up. (Allan Radcliffe)

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Evocatlve of a 19203 hellhole 102 ‘ml LIS'I’ l8 Sep—2 Oct 2003

again and saw gaunt men standing in the fields as if sunstruck. their clothes 8 sagging second skin of denim and copper rivets. their tobacco crops bug DINO". and jaundiced ll‘. the heatf Damn fine is what it is.

Tim Gautreaux's second novel meanders along like a steamboat down the Mississippi. Cutting a sure path through thick water's running deep with brutality and VIOIOHCO. In an llllCllSCly l)ll‘,‘SlC£il. masculine way something akin to the Journey in Conrad's Heart of Darkness Randolph Aldridge lid‘. igates his COurse from the relatne sopl“:;:i::atioi‘ and \.'.'é>eiltlt of Pittsburgh to Roe chum LOuisiana. He goes there in semen of his brother. Byron and a mill to wake some money.

The 1920s worid that Gaut'eaux descnbes is so far removed from the America we know today. and :t‘s hard to reconCile the two places. Train mes

sw :a! an: blood. The deep-rooted fearful irier‘taiity is battled with in reeking swamps and spelt out in stark ClZlTlT‘,Z 'H's weapon prodded hm ir‘ the pack. and he thought of how there was no ‘aw but what his pistol iiiade.‘

Byron has returned from the First World \"Jar traum; Used and with all ties to his léilYTll‘,’ cut, The hellhole he has (:hoser‘ to live l.'l contains one saloon, carelessly built and rangy’. which is run by Galleri. a Sicilian mafioso. and blades and guns are never far from show. And although Rant olph's descent into a more l)rlllllll‘.’€ mindset is inescapable. there are fractures 0‘ love to prevent the hOrror becoming absolute. Human compasses is not (:Ottll;i(;’.€‘:l,’ sucked on, b, the S‘.'."afi'llll‘.g mosouitoes. but very nearl, This is a remarkable contribution to otir sense of a land past and ‘ltSfllTCTS re"‘ait‘ir‘.g

iRuth Hedges,

Classic novels revisited. This issue: The Stand

Published 25 years ago.

What's the story? OffiCiaIly Stephen King's most popular horror tome. The Stand wrttily employs the conventions of apocalyptic B-movres and mid- century SCi-fi to create a terrifying msrght into the darkness that belies middle American respectability. Circling the many memorable characters is a deadly flu Virus. acerdentally released from a US military laboratOry. that Wipes out most of the earth's population, fOrCing the few SUTVIVOTS to exrst without sOCial order or institutions.

What the critics said 'The Stand has everything!' cheered the New York Times Book Revrew. though its enthusmsm was emphatically not shared by scuence fiction writer Spider Robinson. The disgruntled author performed a critical hatchet job on The Stand. urging his readers to accost people in bookshops and discourage them from buying it. Key moment The climactic battle between the forces of good and evil. represented in the novel by tOB-year-old Mother Abigail and the lethally charming 'dark man‘ Randall Flagg, is an extraordinary. gripping finale.

Postscript Fans of the original novel were delighted in 1990 when King released his Complete and Uncut Edition. With characteristic verbosity. King‘s revised text contained some 150.000 extra words. including a new beginning and ending, and fresh characters and scenes. thus transmuting the book from unputdownable horror tale to elaborate epic.

First line test ‘Hapscomb's Texaco sat on Number 93 just north of Arnette. a pissant four- street burg about 1 10 miles of Houston.‘ (Allan Radcliffe)