Quill & Quire
Ken Finkleman doesn’t stray far from his roots as a television and film writer in his debut novel, the story of Noah Douglas, a TV writer going through a doozy of a mid-life crisis.
Noah is a poster boy for downward mobility: the human dregs of an old-money family whose money has vanished, he begins drinking himself into oblivion after being financially savaged in a divorce and then laid off from the cop show he’d been writing for. Adding insult to injury is Noah’s ongoing – and exquisitely rendered – casual humiliation at the hands of Patrick McEwen, an annoyingly successful author. The writing life, as Noah understands better than most, is “a bitchy business.” Unable to make his way in it – he can’t even do a good job of sucking up – Noah finally takes revenge on his nemesis with the help of a handy machete.
The echoes of Crime and Punishment are not accidental, and in many ways Noah makes a convincing modern Raskolnikov – disgusted by the hypocrisy of others, riven by tortured motives, and suffering progressive mental deterioration (here brought on more by binge drinking than feelings of guilt). Though ostensibly a “fallen upper-class WASP,” he is really a familiar Jewish stereotype in fiction: the horny, middle-aged nebbish obsessed with his mother and the Holocaust. Visiting a Jewish deli he even thinks to himself, “These are my people.” What this means, however, is that he doesn’t have an individuality of his own.
The darkly satiric tone will be familiar to fans of Finkleman’s CBC series The Newsroom. The pace is quick and the writing dexterous and laced with freewheeling, snarky wit. Typical is a description of a priest whose “tiny feline eyes cut into his fat, round, clean-shaven head and made him look like the Cheshire cat on chemo as he coughed up his weekly hairballs of wisdom.”
But things fall apart. There is a bizarre autobiographical fragment composed by Noah, following which the book ends on an almost dismissive note, shuddering into a clichéd coda. As entertaining as the rest of the novel is, these final chapters leave us with the kind of forgettable stuff you expect to see playing on the screen while the credits roll.
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About the Author
Ken Finkleman is a Canadian television and film writer, producer and actor. He is best known as the writer, creator and producer of the CBC Television series The Newsroom
(also aired on PBS), in which he starred as television news producer George Findlay for three seasons. He also produced Married Life
(Comedy Central, Atlantis Films), Foolish Heart
(CBC), Foreign Objects
(CBC), More Tears
(CBC) and At The Hotel
(CBC), and in the 1980s wrote the screenplays for a number of Hollywood films. He is currently at work on a new television series that will air on The Movie Network in Fall 2010.