Competing claims of authorship haunt this highly ironic and ultimately winning debut novel about a literary theft gone terribly wrong. Cal Cunningham, who like F. Scott Fitzgerald, emigrates to New York from Minnesota, is a self-described writer with one major problem: he can't seem to write anything. Cal lives in a squalid Washington Heights apartment with Stewart Church, a dull lawyer who seems to lack any artistic ambition whatsoever. While the procrastinating Cal has been "storing up" material for his attempt at the great American novel, Stewart secretly has been writing a novel of his own, entitled Almost Like Suicide. In a moment of supreme irony, Cal learns that Stewart's secret novel is actually about Cal's life --- a dissipated life dominated by skirt chasing, daydreaming about becoming a great novelist, and working at a bookstore.
When Cal sneaks into Stewart's room to find and read the hidden manuscript, he comes to a horrible realization: "I was a poseur, a fraud, an artist manqué, and always would be. It was Stewart who was the writer; Stewart who would realize all my fantasies of literary success[.]" Yet it was not to be. While riding his bike, Stewart is struck and killed by a taxicab. The jealous Cal, confronted with a brilliant unpublished manuscript and a dead author, convinces himself that Almost Like Suicide is as much his book as Stewart's. In Cal's estimation, Stewart has acted as a glorified secretary, taking mere dictation about Cal's life. He then decides to take the manuscript and publish it under his own name.
Cal gets an agent, the hilariously serpentine Blackie Yaeger, who makes a blockbuster deal for the book's movie and publishing rights. Needless to say, complications arise. Cal again steps into Stewart's shoes, this time in the realm of romance, when he falls hopelessly in love with Janet --- a woman who Stewart loved and to whom he sent Almost Like Suicide before his untimely death.
Cal and Janet marry, and everything seems to be going perfectly. He's become a critically acclaimed best-selling author and he's found the love of his life. But when a woman from Cal's skirt chasing past moves into the small Vermont town where Cal lives with Janet, she proceeds to blackmail Cal and make his life a guilt-ridden hell. Les knows all. She wants money and, later, she wants Cal to join her in a drug smuggling operation. But Cal is as paralyzed in crime as he is in his writing. When he finally confesses everything in a tale involving deception, blackmail, and murder, he has nothing left but to publish a bestseller about the whole affair, entitled About the Author.
Colapinto knows the ropes of envy and loathing in the literary underworld. There is, he tells us, something terribly seductive about the allure of literary fame. And how many writers have wanted the rewards of literary fame (money, fans, adoring interviews) without having to do the requisite hard work? Colapinto explores the meaning of literature in both its commercial and artistic realms, with the former taking increasing preponderance. ABOUT THE AUTHOR is a classic page-turner, a delightfully breezy dark comedy you're sure to enjoy.
Reviewed by Chuck Leddy on January 20, 2011