|You Poor Monster is the story of a young Baltimore lawyer who is thrown into an
ugly divorce proceeding and finds himself befriending his client, the charming and generous Sam Shoogey. Shoogey is a former war hero, college football
star, professional boxer and novelist. Or is he? As more and more of Shoogey's sweet and funny tales unravel, the narrator unexpectedly finds himself
drawn even more to Shoogey, posing (and ultimately answering) the question, "Is a lie a lie if you know it's untrue, or is it just a story?"|
And is You Poor Monster just a story, too? Well, it says "a novel" on the cover. But, through the use of endnotes, the author deconstructs the book as we read it, breaking down the wall between author and narrator and leaving us to ask if this is really an autobiography. Are the author and the narrator the same person? Are the author and Shoogey the same person? Did any of the events in You Poor Monster actually happen? Is the author entertaining us, or revealing himself? Or both? And why does the author continually insist that the book's editor remove anything even remotely unflattering about the narrator's wife and children?
|Because of its structure, the book can be read in three different ways, each producing a different reading experience. A reader can read the text alone,
and ignore the endnotes altogether. Or read the endnotes at the same time as the text. Or read all the endnotes at the same time, after finishing the text.
Depending on which approach the reader takes, the same passage can evoke a belly laugh or a pang of sadness. The author expresses no preference for any
of the three approaches. But he may be lying when he says that. Since all roads lead to the same conclusion in You Poor Monster, we believe he's
telling us the truth. At least about this.
Authors will often tell you that, just as they do not have favorites among their children, they do not have favorites among their books. This is complete nonsense. If Nabokov told you he liked Invitation to A Beheading as much as Lolita, he'd be lying to you.
And, yes, I know he's dead and not in any position to offer such an opinion, but that's not my point.
My point is, get a few drinks in them, and every writer I know will finally admit which book is his favorite.
You don't need to ply me with alcohol. I'll tell you flat out, without hesitation, that You Poor Monster is my favorite. And it isn't even close. The book, originally called Our Poor Napoleon, was serialized in The City Paper in Baltimore over the course of 36 weeks back in 1993. It was a big, unwieldy mess -- 600-plus pages -- and I set to work revising it.
For almost 10 years.
After all that editing, God only knows if there's anything left of the original book, except for the name of the author. (When I tried to run a computer program to compare the text of the two drafts, I swear I saw smoke pouring out of the little holes in the back of the computer.) It's not only half the size now, but the characters, plot and dialogue have changed dramatically, as have the fates of the various characters.
While two of my other novels have been published in the past few years -- The Locklear Letters and My Wife and My Dead Wife -- it's the publication of You Poor Monster that I've been looking forward to.
Because I will never write anything better than You Poor Monster, for reasons that cannot be explained here without giving away too much of the book.
And also, not incidentally, it was this book that I used to propose marriage to my wife. True story. On her birthday dinner back in 2004, I gave her a copy of the manuscript and asked her to turn to the dedication page, where it reads, "For my wife." Fortunately, she didn't say, "I didn't know you were married!" Instead, when she stopped crying, she said yes.
I'm sure this would be my least favorite book if she'd said no.
You can order You Poor Monster from Amazon.com by clicking here.