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Fame & the lit game

BY KRISTEN PETERS | JULY 29, 2009 7:15 AM

Matching the cosmetically comedic wit of Miguel de Cervantes and the brash repertoire of Tucker Max, Steve Hely creates a character in How I Became a Famous Novelist so etched with honest humor and even more honest strife that any reader will be left school-girl-giggling and rapid-fire page-flipping until the very end.

Hely, whose résumé included with “Late Night with David Letterman,” “Last Call with Carson Daly,” and most recently “American Dad” — not to mention a B.A. from Harvard — débuts his solo writing skills with a hugely satirical novel on the book publishing world and the motives behind today’s New York Times Best Sellers.

In How I Became a Famous Novelist, Pete Tarslaw, a 29-year-old employed at an agency that forges college-entrance essays, lulls himself into lustful daydreams of his ex-girlfriend’s pending wedding.
His first concoction of the sequence of events include him making a fool of himself, pitied at the reception table by the man sitting in the wheelchair next to him, and watching his ex, Polly Pawson, giggle to her new Australian husband about the schmuck she dated in college.

When reality hits, Preston Brooks gives Tarslaw the epiphany to catapult Tarslaw into catalytic action. Brooks, who holds the No. 1 position on the Times Best Sellers list, flutters around television interviews and press releases with his lyrical, flowery, and ultimate shit writing.

If Brooks can do it, so can Tarslaw, who, despite generally being a lazy drunk, is actually quite brilliant when it comes to his grasp on the current book-writing phenomenon. So Tarslaw vows to become the next highly sought after rich and famous author and arrive at Pawson’s wedding in glorious fashion.

First, he needs to actually write the damn thing. The process is simple enough, and Tarslaw has outlined 16 rules to follow. Such as rule No. 9 which reminds him to include food allusions and the most important rule, No. 2, make a popular book. Who cares if the writing is any good?

So is born The Tornado Ashes Club, by Pete Tarslaw, a cliché book about Silas and his grandmother finding love in Las Vegas and trying to solve an unsolvable mystery. Against all odds and by pure coincidental events, the novel reaches stellar status and Tarslaw finds himself in the spotlight, unable to manage what he’s created for himself.

The first half of How I Became a Famous Novelist, the half depicting his actual writing process and the animalistic motivations for jealous revenge on his being dumped years before keep the pages flipping uncontrollably. The second half, still infused with the same smart and candid humor, flails as Tarslaw does in media attention. The ending is still strong, but unlike the beginning, it gives attention to more and different sentiments from the narrator, running the comedy thin.

Hely infuses his obviously exceptional grasp on past and contemporary publishing knowledge into this admittedly light read, but How I Became a Famous Novelist is so painfully worth the time.


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