Don’t even try to pigeonhole Jesse Kellerman’s work. Each of his books, beginning with the impressive, haunting SUNSTROKE, has been different from its brothers. The only unifying and common thread that has run through his body of writing is the overall quality of the plotting, characterization and, ultimately, execution.
"POTBOILER will make you laugh out loud and bring tears to your eyes. It is a marvelous jape about everything from world affairs to political correctness to the process by which novels such as this are created and brought to market."
So it should come as no surprise that POTBOILER, Kellerman’s fifth novel and first after a two-year absence, bears no resemblance to the works that precede it. In fact, it will bear little resemblance to anything you’ve read in recent memory. At various points, it will put you in the mind of other authors --- Trevanian, Graham Greene, Philip K. Dick, Franz Kafka --- though not of Kellerman himself. It is by turns uplifting, depressing, hilarious and tragic, all while being impossible to put down, even during its darkest and most frustrating passages.
Arthur Pfefferkorn is a tenured college professor on the wrong side of middle age who remains unsettled by the fact that his one-time literary aspirations are as dead as Julius Caesar. The particularly large piece of humble pie that sticks in his craw is the fact that William de Vallèe, his oldest friend, is a household name in the thriller genre. That fact eclipses Pfefferkorn’s second largest regret, namely that his friend also married Carlotta, the woman who Pfefferkorn has always loved.
The book opens with de Vallèe having been lost at sea. Pfefferkorn is invited to the memorial service, and with some hesitation and regret makes the flight from his quiet and somewhat humble New England professorial digs to southern California. He and Carlotta reconnect (to put it delicately) after the service. In the course of things, Carlotta shows Pfefferkorn an unfinished manuscript of de Vallèe’s. Pfefferkorn proceeds to steal the manuscript, edit it, finish it, and submit it to an agent as his own. The novel is published, and all of the things that Pfefferkorn wished for are now his.
But that’s only the first bit or so of POTBOILER. Indeed, Pfefferkorn’s actions send him flying down a rabbit hole from which he will never escape. Everything he thought he knew about his friend and his career is dead wrong. Don’t even try to guess what happens: just keep in mind that one must be careful what is wished for, and the worst devil you can make a deal with is the one you see in the mirror.
POTBOILER will make you laugh out loud and bring tears to your eyes. It is a marvelous jape about everything from world affairs to political correctness to the process by which novels such as this are created and brought to market. It will also raise the ire of the thinner-skinned among us, making it worth reading for that reason alone. Although I might favor other Kellerman novels over this one, POTBOILER is undeniably indispensable reading. Hang on to your hat and dig in.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 6, 2012