It was that glorious cover that caught my eye on Twitter, singing out on a dank winter’s day, and when I read its blurb Andrew Lipstein’s debut sounded right up my alley. Last Resort tells the story of how a writer came to both realise his ambition and frustrate it when his first novel is picked up by an agent who scents a bestseller but there’s a hitch.
If Vermeer read Tracy Chevalier’s The Girl with a Pearl Earring, would he feel like he was reading about himself?
Determined to become an author, Caleb Horowitz throws up his copywriting job in New York City, taking himself off to California by way of Florida and a broken heart. He knows just one person there: Avi Dietsch, an acquaintance from college who offers him a bed for the night and regales him with the story of his own romantic misadventures on a Greek island, a story he sends in written form for Caleb’s opinion. The writing is poor but the story is gripping and Caleb sees a way out of his own writing slump, working Avi’s story up into a novel which snags Ellis Buford’s attention. Soon Buford is close to brokering a substantial deal, Caleb’s broken heart has been mended by Sandra with whom he has fallen in love, even the startup he works for looks set to pay out handsomely when its takeover completes but there’s a fly in the ointment. Avi is now working in publishing and despite Caleb’s best endeavours, he’s seen the manuscript. A deal is finessed, one that satisfies Avi but not Caleb who has no choice in the matter. His resentment nags away at him, blocking his writing, infecting his relationship until he hits upon a plan that only an obsessive would conceive. What ensues benefits no one, least of all Caleb.
I am driven by what I don’t have
Regular readers might be forgiven for thinking Lipstein’s novel is a rerun of Antoine Wilson’s Mouth to Mouth which I reviewed last week but aside from a novelist told a real life story by a college acquaintance, they’re very different although they both share a thread of suspense pulled pleasingly taut. Lipstein’s novel is narrated by Caleb, not an entirely attractive character but a compelling and convincing one. There’s the occasional glimpse of self-awareness coupled with flashes of humour as Caleb hurtles towards self-destruction, caught up in his obsession, heedless of anyone else. It’s a sharply observed novel whose overarching theme is the ownership of stories: to Caleb anyone is fair game. Lipstein manages the pace of his narrative brilliantly. It had me gripped from the start, a proper literary page-turner, and the ending is a masterstroke.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London 9781474620109 304 pages Hardback