The Bottom Line: A groundbreaking fusion of LA Noir, satire and time travel that will enthrall readers from start to finish.
The Sellout opens as penniless creative writing teacher Joe McElwee realizes every writers’ dream: to make the New York Times bestseller list. Joe’s blockbuster thriller is already making money, and his publisher assures him that this is just the beginning. He allows himself to dream of a better life – one in which he doesn’t have to stuff himself with free food at book readings simply to survive.
There’s just one problem: Joe doesn’t like his own book. He’s completely uninspired by his protagonist (“He’s a simple archetype, and a stupid one.”). His friend Veronica isn’t a fan, either, and in a jaw-dropping scene that will make every creative person sweat, she makes no attempt to hide her contempt for his new work. Veronica may be hosting a book reading at her store, but she calls it a necessary evil: “Books like that keep me afloat so I can sell books like you used to write.” She calls Joe a sellout and compares him to an author they both loathe, Niall Turner. And then she declares that as punishment for writing such dreck, Joe deserves to live as a character inside an even crappier novel than the one he wrote.
After a slip on the ice, Joe loses consciousness. He wakes up to a pile of cash and jewels, a bloody knife and a headache. A quick study, he soon notices something is off. Through various observations and a run-in with a certain someone from his own era, he soon realizes he’s living in the 1940s – inside a Niall Turner novel (it’s not all bad – sex seems easy to come by, and he can eat whatever he wants without getting fat).
And his way out of the “Turnerverse”? Solving a crime, of course.
In what may be the most comedic effort of his career to date, Andrew Diamond scores big with this juicy blend of noir, comedy and time travel. Comparisons to Stephen King’s Misery, a story about a novelist whose life is irrevocably changed after an icy accident en route to LA, are inevitable. Like King’s protagonist Paul Sheldon, Joe is also trapped by a woman who wants to punish him for subject matter she disapproves of. But The Sellout is both more fun and sophisticated than King’s novel. For one thing, Joe’s journey is filled with self-doubt and loathing. Also, Veronica’s identity becomes far more nuanced as the narrative progresses, resulting in scenes that are, in turn, titillating, surprising and hilarious.
The Sellout features plenty of satire, but it also works as a mystery in its own right. Along the way, Diamond explores questions about personal growth, fulfillment, suffering, justice – and the bliss of just letting go. Highly recommended.