A talented young writer wins the 2007 National Book Award for a serious novel about the Vietnam War. Then he decides to sell a four-part retro breezy crime serial to Playboy magazine. Okay, so it did not make sense to me either, and that serial here becomes an under-200-page tale that reads like a rejected script for Miami Vice. The dialogue reads a lot like a middle-schooler’s first attempt at writing. But then, some may find this sample fascinating: “You know where he lives, right?” “Yes.” “Fine. I said we had ten percent of a plan. It’s more like two percent. I gotta get some smokes.”
Sometimes less is more. In this case, less is less. And, oh yes, there are a number of characters who you just know from the first few pages are going to fight it out at the end of this not-at-all-disguised shaggy dog story.
Is this Johnson’s idea of a $23 practical joke? I don’t know, but let’s just hope that Playboy paid him a Ferrari’s trunk full of money, because recovering from this is going to be a long shot. Bang!
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.00, 196 pages
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.