Alex Shakar on the Fallout From a Giant Book Advance


There’s a cautionary essay by the novelist Alex Shakar up at The Millions about all the ill-fated events that befell him after his first novel, The Savage Girl, got a giant advance a little over ten years ago. First Robert Jones, his beloved editor at HarperCollins, died of cancer at the age of 47. The memorial service was held eight days before the book was to be released, and one day before September 11, 2001. Not only did 9/11 cause everyone to declare Mr. Shakar’s literary prediction of a post-ironic age irrelevant, but then his agent, “a clean-cut, preppie-looking guy” named Bill Clegg, turned out to be a crack addict.

And then there’s our treatment of him:

The other event at an East Village bar that summer was a pre-launch party for the novel which Sharyn had arranged.

“Great news,” she said on the phone the morning thereof.  “It got picked up in the Observer.  They even ran an excerpt.”

It was the first piece of press the book had gotten.  On my way to the party, I bought a copy:

“How to market a book by a young Ivy League author whose prose thoroughly confuses you?  Compare him to Thomas Pynchon, cross your fingers and hope for the best, baby!”

This was followed by an out-of-context sentence from a sex scene.  Followed in turn by some other party one could go to instead.

Stricken, feeling like I’d been molested, I threw the paper away, took deep breaths, and entered the bar.  At every table, and spaced every three feet down the bartop, lay photocopies of the article.  A few early guests were perusing it.  Sharyn came up to me, a whole stack of them in hand.

Let it be known: all future debut novelists will be allowed to shoot the messenger when a sentence or two of snark comprises a palpable target in a world of cosmic misfortune. (Any Luminarium parties on the horizon?)

Alex Shakar on the Fallout From a Giant Book Advance