The concept for the first book of Chicago-based freelance writer Stephen Markley is an interesting one: the story of how he wrote and sold the book that this review is about (and is billed as “A Premature Memoir,” which I thought was a great way to put it). By definition, there is no suspense — since you’re reading the thing. He acknowledges this several times.
However, he makes up for that by possessing a funny and overall skilled style of writing that draws you in regardless. This is improved (in my view) by the immense quantity of footnotes that he uses to add humorous asides or tell anecdotes relating to the subject at hand.
It helps that I enjoy the general style he uses and the voice he speaks with through his writing, and I have to admit that this probably won’t be enjoyed by anybody who doesn’t like lewd and somewhat strange stories. Or indeed, the copious amounts of footnotes. There are 214 footnotes, all told — which works out to about one every two pages (the book is about 470 pages long).
The book is definitely humour-based for the most part, but there is an absolutely heartbreaking and wonderfully well written description of his relationship with his first real love. Throughout the book he says that he doesn’t really have a hook to grab people with (being white, middle class and had a normal childhood) in the way that other authors have stories of abusive childhoods to draw people in, but in my opinion that part had the makings of a successful book right there.
I have to say that some parts of the book didn’t quite agree with me, such as the bits where he tries out new literary ideas that haven’t been done before. One of these ideas was to put the bulk of the chapter in footnote form while leaving one or two sections at the top of the page for normal text, while another was to not capitalise the first letter of a new paragraph. This served to be extremely distracting. There’s a reason these things haven’t been done before.
One idea that did work though was filling the breaks between paragraphs with his samples of rejections from satirical newspaper The Onion. Highlights include “Weather Saves Man From Awkward Racial Tension,” “Osama Bin Laden To Join Cast Of Hit Fox Show 24” and “Area Woman Thinks Of Perfect Onion Headline.” Another idea that worked was writing about a conversation with his friend while rewriting the location of the conversation to places like space stations orbiting black holes or on the edge of a volcano.
As you may be able to tell, I liked the book a lot. I feel that Markley really should’ve been published before as a novelist. His main appeal would be as a humour novelist rather than the serious novelist he intends to be (which, again, he addresses in the book). This is a book I would recommend for all aspiring writers, as it will ring true with a lot of them.