Tournament of Books 2015
 
 

Review-a-Day
Powells.com
Monday, September 24th, 2001


 

About the Author

by John Colapinto

A review by C. P. Farley

T. S. Eliot once admitted, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." Sadly, the same can be said of novelists. Writers are notorious thieves, constantly lurking in the shadows, notepad in hand, looking for a quick score — a quirky bit of dialogue to pinch, a gum-smacking cashier to caricature, a bizarre news story to appropriate. Fagin would have made a great writing teacher.

Of course, it’s not enough to be a thief. What separates the writers from the typists is the talent and the tenacity to fashion a raw mass of material, lifted or otherwise, into a dynamic whole. Which is enough to drive ambitious wannabes crazy. For talent can be neither willed nor bought, and those that ain’t got it can steal all they want, but they still won’t be able to turn their whiny youths into Catcher in the Rye. Or can they? In John Colapinto’s wonderful new novel, About the Author, his morally dubious hero does just that.

Young and dying to be a writer, Cal Cunningham moves to New York and sets about living the bohemian life of an artiste. He quickly learns that becoming a "writer" has its rewards — i.e. women — and plays his trump to great, lotharian success. The only problem is that he can't actually write.

So he’s downright outraged when he discovers that his roommate — a law student, for Christ's sake — has been secretly writing a novel based on Cal's debauched life. Even worse, it’s really, really good. How dare he steal Cal's life! Before he can confront him, though, the roommate is killed in an accident.

So Cal steals the manuscript — it is, after all, his life, right? — publishes it under his own name, and makes a fortune. Unfortunately, Cal soon learns that someone knows his embarrassing secret. Fortunately, she's willing to keep quiet — for a price. Soon Cal's idyllic new life is slipping through his fingers, and the reader is hoping against hope that he will somehow escape the fate he deserves.

About the Author has already been compared to Patricia Highsmith's Talented Mr. Ripley. Both are gripping psychological thrillers about a young man trying to get away with stealing another's life. Though Colapinto's novel is not the better of the two, with characters such as the charmingly amoral agent Blackie Yaeger, Les the straight-talking grifter, and Cal himself, as sympathetic as he is dishonest, About the Author is certainly the more entertaining. If Cal Cunningham is Tom Ripley with a heart, John Colapinto is Patricia Highsmith on Prozac.


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