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Knifeboy: A Novel Paperback – August 28, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Jay Hauser, the Dartmouth freshman narrator of film director/writer Williams's uneven debut, has a mean streak, a salesman's heart and a case full of knives to hawk to his family and friends. As summer break approaches, Jay is offered a spot on the varsity football team and tapped for the most exclusive fraternity on campus, but he can't get his mind off of his crush, Isabelle, and her accusation that he is not charming enough to be her boyfriend. (Never mind that Isabelle is less hot than hometown girlfriend Brooke, a silicone-breasted baby-talker.) Isabelle's insult gets under Jay's skin, and to prove his charisma he takes a summer job selling expensive sets of Bladeworks knives. Jay develops a selling formula and becomes the top seller in the country. Setting his sights on becoming the best salesman internationally, a hard-drinking Jay, blessed with a natural talent for sales and bereft of ethical sense, gets sucked into a vortex of pride and rage against his parents, friends and customers. Though somewhat enriched by its exploration of knife selling—a peculiarly popular occupation among college students—the novel leans heavily on casual cruelty and facile frat-boy antics. The story moves briskly, though not much happens below the surface. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

In his debut, screenwriter and director Williams illuminates the college summer job du jour, selling knives door to door. Dartmouth freshman Jay Hauser takes the job on a dare, after the girl of his dreams tells him he isn't charming enough to be successful as a salesman. Ruthlessly cashing in on family connections near and far, Jay breaks a company sales record, but this only serves to fuel his ambition. Maniacally obsessed with becoming a knife-selling master, he even stoops so low as to offload an expensive item on his family's low-paid maid. As his drinking escalates and his sense of ethics completely evaporates, Jay finally begins to wonder where his sense of competitiveness is taking him. Williams' humor ranges from grossly funny to just plain gross, and his attempts to deepen his material by including frenetic scenes with Jay's dysfunctional family are erratic at best. He does, however, get props for his original and flamboyant portrait of the obscure world of knife-selling. Wilkinson, Joanne

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Simon & Schuster Paperbacks Ed edition (August 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416538216
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416538219
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,785,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
I'm not sure what drew me to this debut novel, I suppose the combination of coming-of-age story and door-to-door salesman antics. Both are promising fictional material when done right, however, neither element really worked much magic on me here. The book gets off to a bad start with several very awkward opening chapters introducing the reader to Jay Hauser. It's the end of his freshman year at Dartmouth, and the story opens with a scene involving his future with the football team that establishes a heavy-handed metaphor for the rest of the book. This segues into a whole bit about pledging a frat and whether or not the cool guys like him, again, rather heavy-handedly establishing certain aspects of his character.

Then the story moves abruptly back to the tony Detroit suburbs he grew up in, and his life with his divorced parents (emotionally blackmailing mother and wealthy father), somewhat whiny kid brother, and the hot girlfriend he couldn't care less about. It's here that he embarks on his summer job as knife salesman, under the management of a college buddy. Jay's initial dedication to this rather unlikely summer job was born from an off-hand comment from Isabelle, a girl Jay is close friends with at Dartmouth and has a huge crush on. She said he wasn't charismatic enough to handle a salesman job and in order to prove her wrong, he makes the job his mission -- at the expense of everything else, his family, his girlfriend, and his high school friends.

The knife-selling stuff is pretty interesting at first, as Jay learns the ropes and manages to come up with his own patter and spin on the established sales pitch.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By lockrocker! on February 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
I picked the book up used, and read it in a day or so, and I liked it.
Some people have issues with the fact that the protagonist is a spoiled rich kid: I'm not, but I don't have to fuse with my protagonist to appreciate a book, and I still found ways to empathize. Being socially awkward, trying to find ways to fit in and seemingly failing, I think these things happen to everyone.
Others focus on the fact that he's not very likeable: granted, he's not. It becomes obvious toward the end of the book that Jay Hauser has suffered abuse. That's one of the tragedies of abused people, often, their humanity is so damaged that they're not likeable. Not every one comes out like "A Boy Named Dave." Jay Hauser has a choice, keep his flawed, maimed humanity, or ditch it and move through the world like a shark, like a knifeboy. I'm reminded of a man who had been born with stumps for legs due to thalidomide exposure. He was offered the chance to have his legs amputated, and be fitted for prosthetics. His doctors assumed he would jump at the chance, since he'd be able to walk, and stand: he turned them down flat and kept the stumps. They were a part of him. In the same way Jay Hauser chooses to keep his humanity, even with the pain. The end of the book has him diving headlong into the polluted surf off the west coast, into "the sh_t," yet feeling exhilarated. I felt that same way for him.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By avid reader on January 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
I was excited about reading this book, I usually enjoy creative coming of age stories but this was far from it. This was the first book in a very long time that I was unable to finish it. On more than one occasion I was tempted to rip the book to shreds. The store is about a blond rich country cluber who has been giving everything he has wanted on a silver plater. He "grows up" to be a frat football star at Dartmouth. The summer after his freshman year he decides to impress the girl he has a crush on, by becoming a knives salesman. Once again using his upper class status to gain an unfair advantage over fellow sales people who do not have the luxury of using his parents friends and there social bs to force friends into buying over priced cutlery. On one occasion in the book the boy's mother forces her maid to buy kitchenware she can't afford. Time and again I was hoping for something bad to happen to the character, he is the guy in high school we all hated, and in this book we find that there isn't a single quality worth saving. It was a waste of money and I felt guilty leaving it in the trashcan that someone might pick it up and waste their time.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book reminded me favorably of Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, which was published a generation before Knifeboy and was also written in roman à clef style. The novels share similar protagonists: teenage, white male college students returning to wealthy, but broken, homes while on break from elite Eastern schools. Both protagonists party, hang out with friends, have sex, and spend some time in difficult family situations. One interesting distinction between the books is that Jay (from Knifeboy) displays the kind of work ethic that probably propelled his family to its lofty financial position in earlier generations. Jay is gifted with many talents and intelligence, but he doesn't make an appealing entrance at the start of the book---he's too caught up in jock/frat boy culture before his job selling knives starts. (I can understand why some readers dislike him, but he does have some positive qualities, which he displays in interactions with other characters.) The middle portion of the novel is strong---it takes a talented author to make knife selling interesting. The end of the novel seems a bit rushed, and Jay is on a downward spiral by the final chapters. This novel would have worked well in my "Coming of Age in America" honors class in college.
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