One-Minute Book Reviews

December 26, 2007

A Pittsburgh Lawyer Tries to Play Through His ‘Midlife Crisis’ in Philip Beard’s Golf Novel, ‘Lost in the Garden’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Maybe the golfer in bunny ears on the cover should have been the tip-off

Title: Lost in the Garden: A Novel (Plume, 240 pp, $14, paperback), by Philip Beard.

What it is: A comic novel about a 45-year-old lawyer who, after his wife kicks him out of their home in suburban Pittsburgh, tries to cope with what he calls his “midlife crisis” by playing golf.

How much I read: The prologue, the first chapter and some later passages, about 30 pages.

Why I stopped reading: Beard starts pushing his luck with his first line: “If you choose books the way I do, you still have a chance to save yourself a few bucks.” He adds: “This is not a book that is meant to be bought; it’s only a book that needed to be written.” This sort of self-consciously ironic pose makes a critic say very quickly, “Okay, if it’s not meant to be bought, I won’t tell people to buy it.” Especially when the cliché “midlife crisis” also appears in the first few pages. A Publishers Weekly reviewer who finished the book said, “After a promising start, Beard doesn’t provide enough plot to keep the reader from losing patience with Beard’s self-absorbed mid-lifer and his games (sporting and otherwise).” That may be true, but comic novels don’t need a lot of plot if they’re funny enough to make you want to keep reading, regardless.

Best line in what I read: A quote from the novelist Peter De Vries: “Confession is good for the soul only in the sense that a tweed coat is good for dandruff – it is a palliative rather than a remedy.”

Worst line in what I read: Beard writes of the members of a golf club: “The women (who only just attained full membership status in 1998, following a battle that rivaled the one for women’s suffrage in both acrimony and expense) …” The labored humor of the line is typical of what I read.

Consider reading instead: Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good, a much funnier treatment of the crisis that occurs in the life of a father of two when his wife says he wants a divorce (“Nick Hornby Looks at a Marriage in Trouble in His Comic Novel How to Be Good“) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/.

Published: May 2007 (Plume paperback), May 2006 (Viking hardcover) http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780452288423,00.html

Caveat lector: On the book cover shown here, the man is wearing yellow bunny ears. These may not show up on your computer screen.

Furthermore: Beard also wrote the novel Dear Zoe, which he self-published, then sold to Viking. He has a great story on his site about the experience www.philipbeard.net/backstory.html. He is a writer and lawyer in Pittsburgh.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

June 15, 2007

The Five People You Meet on a Golf Course: Billy Mott’s Novel, ‘The Back Nine’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:56 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

An actor and caddy tees off with a tale of a 40-year-old man who, out of the blue, becomes the best player in golf

Finished The Back Nine (Knopf, $24), which I quoted in a post earlier this week. And while I don’t know the author’s golf handicap, his writing handicap is about a 12. Billy Mott is a Los Angeles actor and caddy who deftly evokes the tedium, servility and ruthlessness of the caddy shack at a California golf club. But his novel is otherwise pure escapist fiction: stock characters and a far-fetched plot with lots of golf play-by-play and an overlay of Mitch Albom–style sentimentality about father-son relations. At the age of 40, washed-up Charlie MacLeod returns to a sport that he abandoned years earlier and, out of the blue, becomes the best player in golf while falling into the orbit of a nasty group of high-rollers who bet on matches. Can he maintain his integrity when confronted by people with nicknames like the Czar? What would Mitch Albom say?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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