Review: Shriver by Chris Belden

shriver

Mistaken for a famous but reclusive author of the same name, lonely Shriver attends a writers’ conference at a small Midwestern liberal arts college. Completely unfamiliar with the novel he supposedly wrote and utterly unprepared for the magnitude of the reputation that precedes him, Shriver is feted, fawned over, featured at stuffy literary panels, and barely manages to play it cool.

Things quickly go awry when one of the other guest authors suddenly disappears and Shriver becomes a prime suspect in the investigation. Amidst eager fans, Shriver must contend with a persistent police detective, a pesky journalist determined to unearth his past, and a mysterious and possibly dangerous stalker who seems to know his secret. But most vexing of all, Shriver’s gone and fallen in love with the conference organizer, who believes he’s someone else.

When the “real” Shriver (or is he?) appears to claim his place among the literati, the conference – and Shriver’s world – threaten to unravel.

There were ways that this book was charming, as Shriver is a homebody who is way out of his depth in the situation he involved himself in on a whim. As the book plays out it all becomes more and more confusing about who Shriver really is. Is he really an imposter? Is he possibly the real Shriver, just someone completely dissociated with who he was when he wrote his famous novel? Or is he really just an average man who gets involved in something out of his league and in the process reinvents himself as an author? Whatever he is, Shriver finds a place where he finally fits in the literati that shows up in this small Midwestern conference. The author spends a good deal of his time poking fun at the pretentious culture of literature and some of it is a bit mean spirited. In particular I’m tired of male authors’ preoccupation with women’s breasts when describing them and the addition of the seductive teenage character. I can get through a description of a man when writing without mentioning his crotch, so I feel like a male author should be able to get through the description of a woman without talking about her chest. Likewise, the teenage nymphet is just creepy. I’m not sure if this author added the sexy cheerleaders to be satirical or not, but his main character’s interaction with them didn’t make him particularly charming in a book where most of the time he’s a bumbling harmless old man. The deal with Lolita characters is there’s nothing sympathetic about a male character showing any interest with them considering we’re talking about underage girls. Anyway, those particular features left me with a slightly bad taste in certain areas with a novel that might otherwise have been a cute satire about the culture of literature.

3 out of 5

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