Sunday, January 25, 2015

"The Map and the Territory" by Michel Houellebecq

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 20

Here’s my review of The Map and the Territory by contemporary French novelist Michel Houellebecq.

This author is unabashedly and unashamedly literary and intellectual. Those of us on this side of the pond who fret about novels and commercialism and fads and attention spans and the general lack of receptiveness for ideas can only envy the opportunity to wax philosophical and not only get away with it, but also actually sell books.

This is the story of a fine artist, Jed Martin, and the rationale behind various distinct phases of his work. It is also a police procedural about a ghastly murder. One connection is that the murder was performed in such a way as to create a work of art. This second story has very little to do with the main plot line of Jed's work life. Jed's difficult relationship with his aging master-architect father is a subplot upon which many heady sub-themes are hung, including the history and philosophy of architecture, the relationship between habitation and quality of life, and no less than the fate of civilization.

In perhaps the most stunning stroke of hubris in a work chockfull of it, occurring some way into the narrative so it's a surprise when it comes, Houellebecq makes himself a principal character. By name. The relationship between life and art is open to question - that is, between the physical description of the French novelist, his eccentricities, and his volatile temperament. The Houellebecq in the narrative is not what you'd call a nice person – and certainly not someone you'd probably consider taking on as a friend. The author seems proud he's alienating you, else why talk so unashamedly of his body odor and atrocious manners?

Main character Martin's life is well-to-do Parisian, but mundane. He has an extended affair, off and on, with a Russian media executive named Olga. She is one hot babe, apparently, but even she can't hold his interest. She did abandon him for a time, and perhaps an infantile ego can never forgive the ultimate insult of abandonment.

I'm somewhat mystified. I may reread it someday to study what I missed on first reading, which is probably a lot. I do know that, based on his descriptions of Martin’s paintings, I’d love to see them. I expect they would be photorealistic and iconic – like the old Chinese Communist propaganda posters. One of the delights of the book is imagining what these fictional works would look like.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My recent novel is Mr. Ballpoint, about an outrageous huckster and his mild mannered son, whose marketing of the first ballpoint pen triggered the wacky Pen Wars of 1945. It’s a humorous tale about the joys of entrepreneurship, and the bad guys don’t bite the dirt – they drown in their own red ink. Mr. Ballpoint, capitalism can be fun. Oh, and be sure to catch these podcasts on

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"An Object of Beauty" by Steve Martin

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 19

Here’s my book review of An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin.

You may already know that actor-comedian Steve Martin not only writes gags and skits, but also screenplays, plays, and several books. (He’s also a talented five-string banjo player!) An Object of Beauty is a humorous novel about a scheming young woman making her way in the aristo world of New York art galleries. Oh, and you can add art connoisseur, historian, and collector to Martin’s credentials. He has his own multimillion-dollar private collection, so researching this book probably took little more effort than looking around the walls of his home and remembering details of those transactions.

Main character Lacey Yeager is a looker with brains who has no qualms about sleeping her way to the top of the art-world rat heap. She is sexy, clever, manipulative, shameless, and almost totally heedless. And in this story she goes from being a newbie intern to proprietor of her own trendy gallery. And along the way she goes through boyfriends almost as often as the Manhattan fashion trends shift. There’s the serious, caring metrosexual journalist, a gallery owner or two, a pop artist, a rich playboy broker who may be a scammer, and an FBI agent.

You’ll learn a lot about art – how it’s made, how it’s valued, and what’s in and what’s out. Lacey is one of those characters whose outrageous attitudes don’t fail to fascinate. She’ll hold your attention and keep you guessing what clever ploy she’ll try next. But, oddly enough for a book so well crafted, there are several major plot threads that simply go nowhere or are resolved in uninteresting ways. Did Martin get bored with them? Or did he decide those yarns would be too much of a hassle to spin out or explain? Or is he somehow saying – that’s life – that situation you’re worried about might not turn out as you expect – in fact, it might not go anywhere at all!

For example, I’m dying to know whether there’s a Rembrandt under that Russian painting. So if you happen to run into Steve in the grocery store, please ask him for me.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. I wrote The Misadventures of Rollo Hemphill, about a young man on the make in Hollywood, who keeps failing upward. Young men will identify, mature men will sympathize, and women of any age won’t help giggling at male foolishness. And for reviews of other books you can put on your list, check out these podcasts at

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"The Long Lavender Look" by John D. MacDonald

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 18

Here’s my book review of The Long Lavender Look by John D. MacDonald.

Time was, I was a big fan of MacDonald (he was still alive then). I believe I read all of his Travis McGee books, of which this is one. Each has a color in the title. The power of this mystery series is in the genre and the attitude – dirty dealings and benign cynicism.

Trav lives on a houseboat he won in a poker game in Fort Lauderdale. He’s a salvage expert – he goes after missing boats, money, or wives. He always keeps half of whatever he finds. The baddest guys try to stop him, because they covet the same things.

Trav is a very 'Sixties hero, with parallels to James Bond. Like Bond, McGee is a garbage-collector of the vile detritus left behind by the world's evil geniuses and idiotic criminals. And also like Bond, Trav treats women badly and assumes they like it. And, as in the Bond stories, the beautiful women he loves too much end up dead, usually horribly so, at the hands of the elusive monster-du-jour. Revenge then adds to his justification for giving back as bad as his girlie got, or worse.

As an education in the underside of Florida real-estate schemes and political corruption, MacDonald's books are fascinating, unexpected discoveries. You also get a strong dose of macroeconomic theory anytime McGee engages his neighbor Meyer Meyer to help him understand the intricacies of bribing politicians or laundering money.

But what strikes me as I pick up this book again is the depth of the cruelty MacDonald conjures. It's really ugly, voyeuristic, more shocking than the scummiest story in today's news. But if it thrills you to see powerful bad guys bite the dirt, Travis McGee is your man.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My recent book for male audiences is Mr. Ballpoint, about an outrageous huckster and his mild mannered son, whose marketing of the first ballpoint pen triggered the wacky Pen Wars of 1945. It’s a humorous tale about the joys of entrepreneurship, and the bad guys don’t bite the dirt – they drown in their own red ink. Mr. Ballpoint, capitalism can be fun. Oh, and be sure to catch these podcasts on