‘The Fall Guy’ by James Lasdun (2016) – 244 pages
About thirty years ago, I read a new collection of short stories called ‘Delirium Eclipse’ which greatly impressed me. Here was a writer who could vividly and eloquently capture what it was like to be alive in our modern world. That book of short stories was the first fiction by James Lasdun. I thought for sure that Lasdun would soon join the ranks of young English literary stars like Ian McEwan and William Boyd whose acclaim was rising rapidly.
But widespread fame was not to be for James Lasdun. His next literary work was ‘A Jump Start’, a book of poetry. I bought that book and it contains some very fine poems, but we all know how poetry sells. Throughout his career Lasdun has devoted at least as much energy to his poetry as to his fiction. His next book of fiction was another collection of short stories called ‘Three Evenings’. But short story writers just do not generally receive the plaudits that novelists do. Lasdun did not write a novel until ‘The Horned Man’ in 2002 He has only written three novels including his latest ‘The Fall Guy’ in his entire thirty year career His novels have received uniformly strong reviews, but Lasdun has never captured the public recognition of many other writers. He has also written a lot of literary criticism and book reviews.
‘The Fall Guy’ takes place in New York which is where Lasdun relocated. It is told from the point of view of a guy in his thirties named Matthew who has bounced around in the cooking and chef trade but has never been all that successful. He is staying at an upscale vacation house outside New York with his rich half-brother banker Charlie who is married to the beautiful Chloe. Matthew does the gourmet cooking for the couple during his stay.
There are a lot of bad deeds in this novel of which I will not go into detail, but all that misbehavior surely does spice up the plot. One thing about the writer Lasdun, he has no qualms about his characters being wicked in our current times.
Along the way we get some insights into gourmet cooking and into banking. There is a subplot regarding the Occupy movement which is probably Lasdun’s only misstep in that the movement has already been nearly forgotten today. Matthew does criticize his banker brother Charlie:
“You’re not only allowed to rob people of their life’s savings and steal their houses. In fact, the more you rob people of their life’s savings and steal their houses, the bigger your year-end bonus, right? And of course if it all goes pear-shaped, you and your chums in your six-thousand-dollar power suits can just get together with your other chums at the Treasury Department in their six-thousand dollar suits and arrange for an eighty-billion-dollar bailout, paid for of course by the very people you’ve spent the last decade robbing and stealing from. Right, Charlie?”
The quality that stood out the most for me in ‘The Fall Guy’ is that Lasdun’s writing at the sentence level is lively and adept. I found the prose here energetic and nearly addictive, so I burned through this novel much faster than I normally do. The suspense of the plot propels this scandalous story forward at a breakneck pace. This shocking novel is not what you would expect from a poet