Fickle en­vi­ron­ment of self-help pub­lish­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Eleanor Lim­precht’s

hav­ing an af­fair with a co-worker whom he has taken to call­ing ‘‘ work-wife’’.

Mean­while Peter Her­man, the in­vented au­thor of the fic­tional self-help book, has lived off roy­al­ties since it was pub­lished in 1971, never writ­ing an­other book and re­ly­ing on his wife to save him from fi­nan­cial ruin.

Re­cently wid­owed, he is con­tacted by a young ed­i­tor at his pub­lisher named Stella. She has dreamed up a com­pe­ti­tion to cel­e­brate the an­niver­sary of Mar­riage is a Ca­noe: one strug­gling cou­ple will get the chance to spend an af­ter­noon with the au­thor — and con­se­quently save their re­la­tion­ship.

Stella imag­ines the success of this com­pe­ti­tion will make her ca­reer in pub­lish­ing. Her­man hopes it will pro­vide him with a lit­tle money and an­other brush with fame. Emily thinks it will save her mar­riage, and give her a chance to meet the au­thor whose voice she has imag­ined in her head since she was a girl.

Schrank’s novel, his third, fre­quently finds it­self in the fickle world of New York pub­lish­ing, a mi­lieu he is fa­mil­iar with as the pub­lisher of Ra­zor­bill, an im­print of Pen­guin Young Read­ers. This in­sider’s view is one of the fun­nier as­pects of the novel. There’s He­lena, the ice-queen pub­lisher, who says of Stella’s con­test: ‘‘ I’ve turned big­ger piles of bull­shit into pots of tulips.’’

Peter, how­ever, is a sham­bling, di­rec­tion­less man who wrote a mar­riage guide (that is ex­cerpted within the novel) but who didn’t man­age to stay in his own ca­noe: The cover of the book’s new­est edi­tion was a pho­to­graph of a cou­ple’s hands in­ter­twined. The sun­light be­hind them was red and gold and white, their glossy wed­ding bands

Peter is the wrong choice to fix any­one’s mar­riage but Emily and Eli are the stars of Love is a Ca­noe. Emily is ex­cel­lent at ex­plain­ing things but shy and un­com­fort­able with peo­ple: ‘‘ She un­der­stood that she had con­sciously cho­sen to in­habit a small world full of awk­ward peo­ple who freely ad­mit­ted they’d rather work with ob­jects than hu­mans.’’

Eli, on the other hand, thrives on be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion and cares deeply about what oth­ers think of him. If only Stella and Peter were as well drawn, though at least Peter will come to recog­nise his own hubris. And if only ev­ery­one in this book didn’t speak as though they have es­caped from a Judd Apa­tow script, as Eli does to Emily as they pre­pare to go to a party: glint­ing. What crap. He had never worn one. When Emily came out of their bed­room she was in a dark blue sum­mer dress with white polka dots.

‘ You look hot,’ Eli said. ‘ Later you’ll put that dress up around your thighs and we’ll do our vic­tory dance on a table­top. You can flash your un­der­pants at the boys.’

Is any­one really so glib? Stilted di­a­logue and flimsy char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion can be for­given, though. It is a tricky premise, writ­ing a book within a book, es­pe­cially when one falls into the self-help cat­e­gory.

Schrank does it with­out too much navel­gaz­ing, and with enough wit and warmth to keep the story afloat.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.