Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood by Scott Semegran

The Meteoric Rise of Simon BirchwoodThis funny picaresque novel features the insight-challenged Simon Burchwood, off on a quest for fame and fortune as a great writer, making his journey from Texas to a reading of his d├ębut novel at the flagship Barnes and Noble store in New York City by way of Montgomery AL, where his boyhood friend Jason signs on as his Sancho Panza. Simon is a fine example of a “you spot it, you got it” personality type, exceedingly critical of everyone he meets, tilting at windmills that have his own name painted on them. Semegran manages a first-person narrative that is simultaneously derogatory, clueless, and energetic. Simon is constantly launching into little asides, some of which make one want to scream “TMI!” His meanderings will remind birders of the song of the house finch, which emits a long trail of descending, insistent-sounding notes, finishing with a querulous, whiny three-note ascending and descending phrase at the end; Simon's songs always end with the assertion “It's true!” He's a stingy tipper to boot; this is tolerated somewhat better in Montgomery than in NYC.

The action picks up substantially during his time in Montgomery, where he runs into old acquaintances and revives his assorted petty grudges against them that had been dormant for years, refreshing his relationships with people as what I think folks nowadays call their “frenemy.” He disparages Jason's slovenly lifestyle and makes fun of his old car, calling it a “turd-on-wheels.” The reader will tightly grip an imaginary steering wheel while Simon, often half in the bag, rides around the dark Alabama streets in Jason's other car, his father's lovingly restored 1967 Mustang.

As Simon readies for the New York leg of his trip, the cracks in Jason's marriage become visible to him, and, at Simon's insistence, Jason comes along for the ride, even though he has declared to Simon that “Everything was fine until you came into town. That's when everything started to fall apart.”

The New York segment is played for slightly more broad comedy, a two-hicks-in-the-big-city farce. The two men arrange with a sleazy bellman to stage a “practice” reading of Simon's book (always referred to in caps: “THE RISE AND FALL OF A TITAN,” based on the illegal shenanigans of Simon's detested boss), inviting off-duty hotel employees and sending up a keg. Simon clutches and manages to read the first paragraph only; then the drinking and partying begin. Our hero does manage a few moments of empathy, both in dealing with Jason and with a menacing breakfast chef. Does this suggest that, all other evidence aside, his book may be good? Is he capable of change, or will he remain a legend in his own mind?

The writing is very clever. The only problem I had was with Semegran's usage of “low and behold,” instead of “lo and behold,” and a few typos. Read this book, and feel yourself clutching the wheel of the Mustang as Simon careens through the streets and reaching for your wallet as he prepares to dole out another miserly tip.


Buy the book!

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