by Jonathan Lynn
2018, Endeavor Media, digital
MAYDAY by Jonathan Lynn is a book about writers and writing. A satire about Hollywood. An insightful and often humorous look at the human condition. And sometimes a sad and tragic look at the human condition.
Ernest Mayday, the main character, is a writer caught between worlds, neither of which appreciate him as a writer. He has been pegged as a “trash novelist” because he became famous and rich through commercial fiction. He is involved in Hollywood, however, where fame and fortune is all that is important.
In Hollywood,he learns, “the writer is such a low form of life that nobody owns up to being one at all if they can help it...if you’re not an important enough writer to be a supervising producer or a consultant…you have to settle for being a mere producer. Or an associate producer, a story editor or—at the very least—a story executive...But if all you are called is a writer, God forbid...you will be ignored, re-written, sent to get the coffee and bagels and if you have the temerity to make a suggestion at a story meeting you’ll be told to shut…up.”
On the other side of the writing world, in academia, he does not get credit for being a “real” writer. At one point, English professors offer Mayday the chance to teach creative writing:
‘We think you are the perfect person to teach creative writing here in our English faculty…Your use of signifiers in your work, sequentially so formless and uninteresting in themselves, creates excellent openings for new reading and linguistic strategies and for a healthy emancipated subjectivity among the students. And, of course, this is coupled with your experience of film, where semiotic analysis is so productive…The creation of texts is exactly the direction we should be going in, especially trashy post-modern texts. We’re on the cutting edge here. It’s actually better to create our own texts so that we can decode their semiotic significance ourselves.’
Mayday proves, however, that he is a person who truly understands writing, because he is a Writer:
“Writing is telling the story well, the ability to write good, interesting, funny, real dialogue, the creation of characters who are believable and stay with you when you’ve forgotten what they actually said. It’s the hard mental and physical slog, sitting at your desk hour after hour, day after day, month after month, trying to perfect every phrase, writing down every tiny transient thought before it escapes, perhaps for ever, in case it opens a new door, creates a new plot twist or an insight into character. It all has to be turned into some sort of magical confection that makes the mouth water, that keeps the reader turning the pages, that makes you want to know what happens next. And it has to have resonance beyond the immediate struggles of the characters, so that readers feel that the story, however unlike their own lives, relates to them.”
The book itself is difficult to simplify down to a few sentences. The plot itself is at once delightfully complicated and simple. The characters are multi-layered. As already noted, it is at once funny and sad. While it incorporates philosophy and sly jests, it is hardly erudite. Rather, it is written in an enjoyable (one might even call it accessible) style.
In other words, MAYDAY is highly recommended.
(I received a reader's copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)