(E)Book Talk: THE SALINGER CONTRACT, by Adam Langer

Open Road Media E-riginal (2013), e-book original (ISBN 1453297944 / 9781453297940)
Fiction, 280 pages
Source: E-galley from publisher, via NetGalley
Reason for reading: Personal interest

Opening lines:
“I never believed a book could save your life. It makes sense that Connor Joyce would be the one who changed my mind about that. The story of how one book saved me while another nearly killed Connor began, appropriately enough, in a bookstore–to be more precise, at Borders in Bloomington, Indiana, where I saw a poster with Connor’s picture on it. By then, I had nearly forgotten Connor. I had figured I was done with books.”

Book description, via the publisher’s websiteAn enthralling literary mystery that connects some of the world’s most famous authors—from Norman Mailer and Truman Capote to B. Traven and J. D. Salinger—to a sinister collector in Chicago. 

Adam Langer, the narrator of this deft and wide-ranging novel by the author of the same name, tells the intertwining tales of two writers navigating a plot neither one of them could have ever imagined. There may be no other escape than to write their way out of it. 

Adam is a writer and stay-at-home dad in Bloomington, Indiana, drawn into an uneasy friendship with the charismatic and bestselling thriller author Connor Joyce. Connor is having trouble writing his next book, and when a menacing stranger approaches him with an odd—and lucrative—proposal, events quickly begin to spiral out of control.

Comments: When I was pitched The Salinger Contract for review last month, the publicist mentioned that its publication coincided with the release of a new documentary and companion biography of J.D. Salinger, noting that it was “very much the ‘season of Salinger’ right now.” That angle did encourage me to read it sooner rather than later–although, since I’d received it as an e-galley, I’m not sure how much “later” I’d have been able to get to it anyway.

That angle turned out to be a bit of a ploy–J.D. Salinger is certainly a presence in Adam Langer’s novel, but doesn’t actually appear as a character or play an active role in what transpires. But since the entire story is a bit of a ploy, I can’t really fault it for misleading marketing.  

Saying too much about the plot of The Salinger Contract would spoil the fun of this smart and fast-paced novel, and so I won’t spill much beyond what’s in the publisher’s description quoted above. Adam Langer has crafted a self-aware metafictional mystery around the writing of crime fiction and publishing-industry skullduggery. Using the device of making his narrator–also named Adam Langer, and sharing some biographical similarities with the author–the receiver and relator of protagonist Connor Joyce’s story applies a layer of skepticism within the novel that effectively offers the reader two unreliable narrators for the price of one.

Plausibility is pretty much beside the point here, and as long as you’re willing to go with it, The Salinger Contract is a great ride. I enjoyed the ways that Langer employed and played with a variety of genre conventions, and appreciated the affection for all sorts of literature that underlies the story. However, I’m not sure that one of the first literary references I spotted in the novel was intentional, although I hope it was. The “Adam Langer” character has two young daughters, Beatrice and Ramona; I’d really like to think that a novel whose title invokes J.D. Salinger was also able to make room for Beverly Cleary. Adam Langer the author has been on my radar for a few years, but I haven’t read any of his work before The Salinger Contract; I’ll have to fix that now.


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