Sunday, September 6, 2015

Review: "Fridays at Enrico's" by Don Carpenter

There are hundreds if not thousands of books out there that fictionalize the life of being a writer. Some are good, some are derivative but good as well, and some are quite bad. But I have not read one that blends so perfectly truth, suspense and sadness like the late Don Carpenter’s last, unfinished novel Fridays at Enrico’s. Finished by Jonathan Lethem (really, in Lethem’s words, just dotting the i’s crossing the t’s and making a few corrections), this fragment, if you want to call it that is something much richer than other fragmentary novels, such as David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. But this book’s legacy is outshined by the book’s quality, acting as a sort of antidote for novels and stories that romanticize the life of a writer. It looks at five people with the desire to make it big, become legends like their literary heroes, but get caught up in petty jealousy, crushed dreams, and the sometimes staggering hands of fate. This is the second book by Carpenter that I have read, the first being his novel Hard Rain Falling, a lost classic of the 1960’s, and this book is structured very much like that, and, I assume since I haven’t red them yet, his Hollywood novels as well. Carpenter likes to play with time, not so much focusing on a life-altering event as much as the actions that led up to it and the consequences that followed afterward. The book follows, as I said, five people who dream of becoming something as a writer. We are first introduced to the couple Charlie and Jamie. Jamie is from an affluent home with many skeletons in their closets, Charlie, a war veteran living the life of a bohemian. Jamie is attracted to Charlie despite their age difference, and what begins as a somewhat hollow relationship morphs into something stronger when Jamie’s life falls apart as Charlie’s begins to soar. Into their life comes Stan, a career criminal with an untapped literary knack that is both nurtured and exploited by the other central characters. Finally, we meet Dick, a kind of lothario whose publication in Playboy he tends to coast on, and his distant girlfriend Linda. Soon they become a unit, with many relationships and feuds forming within them. What makes this different than many other books of this ilk is its brutal honesty. It shows not only the hardships and bitter disappointment that come from a creative life, but how much it can distance you from other people if you aren’t careful. At best, these characters are first-rate writers and second-class human beings, and at their worst you wouldn’t give them the time a day. But still, you feel for them when their dreams crash land, and in one instance, are swept away in a matter of a few paragraphs. This is a very humble, gritty look at a group of people’s journey through fantastic dream, crippling ruin, and finally a somewhat shaky acceptance of what life has doled out.

Rating: 5/5

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