I totally stumbled upon this book. In fact my wife did.
I knew nothing about it or its author Steve Tesich (who it transpires wrote the screenplays for The World According to Garp, Eleni, Four Friends and won an Academy Award for Breaking Away. He died in 1996 aged 53, just after finishing this novel.)
It’s flawed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not very good.
First flaw. It’s pretty long and ekes out a story that might benefit from a fairly savage edit. At times it becomes, not so much repetitive as just too languid. The story threatens constantly to burst into action, and yet ever does. But this is also one of its strengths because Tesich writes in such an engaging way that being immersed in the book is as pleasing as being driven by narrative.
It’s the story of a highly succesful but alcoholic screenwriter, Saul Karoo, who can no longer get drunk and who’s mid-divorce. In fact he’s not so much a screen writer but a script doctor (or hack as he defines himself.)
He can’t find any way to create true loving relationships with anyone, most notably his adopted son Billy, who was taken from the arms of a 14 year old girl, Leila, straight from birth.
Upon rewriting (in fact recutting) a failed movie by a film auteur (which Saul regards a masterpiece) he realises that an extra in the movie is Leila, tracks her down and begins a relationship with her, planning to introduce her, at some time to his (her) son Billy.
After that it gets a little complicated.
Second flaw. The story becomes a story within a story and that is one of the tricks of the novel. Sadly, the denouement adds a story within a story within a story, that fails miserably.
It’s funny, sometimes laugh out loud so and it’s skilfully written.. The character of Saul Karoo whilst not lovable is affable enough and his deeply embedded lack of self esteem (despite his brilliant career) often overwhelms him with anxiety and lack of drive and ambition.
He hates Hollywood. He hates the movie business. He hates life frankly.
It’s an odd thing in many ways, but I cautiously recommend it.
If after 100 pages it’s too slow for you, ditch it. It doesn’t go anywhere any faster.