Monday, June 15, 2009

The Enthusiast, by Charlie Haas

Charlie Haas has made a name for himself writing for a variety of outlets, from the big screen to magazines, but he'd never put out a novel before. His first attempt at long-format fiction, The Enthusiast, has been on shelves for two weeks now, and I got a chance to review it over at Collector's Quest. Maybe I identified well with the main character because I spend hours each week writing about elaborate postage stamp forgeries and Hawai'ian currency. I know what it's like to have to compose an article about something I have little personal interest in, but others take very seriously. It's a wholly enjoyable book, maybe not something that'll change people's lives or spawn a new genre, but worth picking up this summer and reading on vacation while the kids scream and tumble over each other at the beach. The book's characters get over hipstery angst as the book moves along, ending up with pretty much all of the cool, young characters becoming cool, older adults — it's sorta like the fantasy beneath Sex in the City, but where you still get to have kids and a mortgage and mature friendships.

I don't know why I'm surprised, but given our reputation as the northern Edge of the World, I was amused to see a shout-out to North Dakota in the book, in regards to a publisher who buys up little obscure magazines, polishes them, and turns them into commodities:

"People hate us."
"I don't think—"
"Hate us. Because we came along and said, 'What if this was a business?' We go to buy someone , and the first thing they say is, 'Gee, do we have to leave North Dakota?' I say, 'No, because we want to preserve that unique character.' They say, 'Oh, that's great, because my brother Zeke is here, and my dog.' I don't want them near here. A square foot in North Dakota is free

Eh, playing to stereotypes a bit, but it comes from the mouth of a Californian publishing editor, who probably knows about as much about North Dakota as…well…people from any state that doesn't border us. But, Zeke? The only place I've met a Zeke is Missouri; we tend to stick to classic Germanic or Nordic names. But, land does come cheap out here, if you don't plan on driving to the grocery store more than once a month.

The Enthusiast includes some fun towards the back. In a section called "P.S." (that's why Amazon has the weird title in their system), the novel tries to go all BluRay on you by adding a handful of "special features," no doubt traded for fifty pages of advertisments in the library edition. There's a canned interview with an author, an interesting article that in ancient times we would have called a "foreword", a "mix tape" list of appropriate music selections for various characters and locales, and one page of reading group questions. That last one…well, here are the recommended questions for the night scheduled to discuss The Enthusiast:

Who brought this salad?

Is someone sitting here?

Did we talk about changing to Thursdays?

What does anyone think about painting this room orange?

Did you read the book? Will it ruin it for you if I talk about it?

Haas has a strong future with The Onion, it seems. It elicited a chuckle from me, but cost his publisher a few thousandths of a cent to put into every copy of the book, so I don't know whether this sort of additional material adds much value to a book, but I won't complain if all books start coming with it.

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