By Ken Finkleman
Ken Finkleman doesn’t stray far from his roots as a television and film writer in his debut as a novelist, telling the story of Noah Douglas, a TV-writer going through a doozy of a mid-life crisis.
Noah is a poster boy for downward mobility: the human dregs of an old-money family whose money has gone, he begins drinking himself into oblivion after being taken to the cleaners in a divorce and then laid off from the cop show he’d been writing for. Adding insult to injury is Noah’s ongoing casual humiliation, exquisitely rendered, at the hands of his frenemy Patrick McEwen (an annoyingly successful author). The writing life, as Noah understands better than most, is “a bitchy business.” Unable to make his way in it – he can’t even do a good job of sucking up – Noah finally takes a suitably literary revenge on his nemesis with the help of a handy machete.
The echoes of Crime and Punishment are not accidental, and in many ways Noah makes a convincing modern Raskolnikov – disgusted at the hypocrisy of others, riven by tortured motives, and suffering progressive mental deterioration (here brought on more by binge drinking than feelings of guilt). Though ostensibly a “fallen upper-class WASP” he is really a familiar Jewish stereotype in fiction: the horny, middle-aged nebbish obsessed with his mother and the Holocaust. Visiting a Jewish deli he even thinks to himself “These are my people.” What this means, however, is that he doesn’t have an identity of his own.
The darkly satiric tone will be familiar to fans of Finkleman’s groundbreaking CBC series The Newsroom. The pace is quick and the writing dexterous and laced with free-wheeling, snarky wit. Typical is a description of a priest whose “tiny feline eyes cut into his fat, round, clean-shaven head and made him look like the Cheshire cat on chemo as he coughed up his weekly hairballs of wisdom.”
But things fall apart. There is a bizarre autobiographical fragment composed by Noah and then the book ends on an almost dismissive note, abruptly shuddering into a clichéd coda. As entertaining as the rest of the novel is, these final chapters leave us with the kind of forgettable stuff you expect to see playing on a corner of the screen while the credits roll.
Review first published in Quill & Quire, September 2010.