It takes a bit of doing to create a sad sack ingrate of a protagonist and then actually get readers to root for him. Erik Tarloff's second novel, The Man Who Wrote the Book, concerns a divorced college professor who teaches English lit at a Baptist college near Fresno, California. Ezra Gordon is in the disadvantageous position of being refused tenure by an institution he loathes. His love life isn't so much a wreck as a mere stall--he's lackadaisically dating Carol, a lawyer for the college who, not to put too fine a point on it, won't put out. Driving her home from a date, he muses, "Failed husband, failed father, failed poet, failed scholar, and any minute now, failed lover."
Ezra looks up a former college chum, Isaac Schwimmer, over spring break, and heads down to Los Angeles for an impromptu visit. Isaac, it turns out, is a wildly successful publisher of pornography, and he introduces Ezra to a world of parties, drinking, and easy lovin'. He also introduces him to Tessa, who rates this eye-popping description:
Her skin was the color of a perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey, her copious cascading hair the color of butter. Her body was at once so firmly toned and so bounteously voluptuous it seemed to belong to some other, more evolved species of primate than the people he knew; her abs alone were sufficient to force any thinking person to reconsider the eugenic advisability of passing on his own DNA.
Ah, Herr Professor in love. And under the influence of Tessa's tender ministrations, Ezra discovers the one thing he doesn't stink at: writing utterly filthy porn.
Of course, when he returns to his college, his seemingly frigid girlfriend, and his foundering career, Ezra has to reconcile his new self--happy dirty-book writer--with his former self--miserable college professor. The two do find common ground in the end: "Strange how much pleasure he'd found in writing a stupid little dirty book; it had actually reawakened his joy in literature, reminded him why he'd gone to graduate school in the first place." Tarloff has a swell premise here, and this book--like his first, Face-Time--is quickly, thickly plotted. The writing may occasionally think it's more amusing than it really is, and some of the plot never comes home to roost, but it's plenty of fun to witness mopey Ezra endure success. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
The author of Face Time abandons the Beltway and sets his second novel in the seemingly pokier arena of academia. But in this entertaining, whimsical tale, the scholarly existence of literature professor Ezra Gordon is by no means free of chaos and surprises, as sex, secret identities and pornography encroach on and transform his life. The story begins on a downcast note, with Ezra in danger of losing his job at Beuhler, a tiny Baptist college, because he hasn't published articles in his field. His joyless relationship with the daughter of a college trustee is doomed; his doctor tells him he's going "downhill" physically, and he's broke. Depressed, Ezra calls his best friend from grad school, Isaac Schwimmer, who invites him to L.A. Isaac, who's a decadent and wealthy porn publisher, shows Ezra a hedonistic weekend involving rich food, excessive drinking, cigars, saunas and sex with a porn star. Ezra feels recklessly alive, and so when Isaac asks him to write a porn novel and cuts a generous check, Ezra agrees to create a dirty book under the pseudonym E.A. Peau. The book's unexpected success has him scrambling to keep his extracurricular project a secret. Irony increases when he learns that he's now the favorite writer of the unwitting prudes who would deny him tenure; it threatens overload when it's discovered that Peau's zip codes match those of Beuhler College and Ezra is made chairman of the investigative committee. Tarloff's brisk one-liners and graceful choreography of clashing personalities evidence his former occupation as a sitcom scriptwriter and happily contribute to this romp in its surge toward a fairy tale ending. (May)
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