The Tale Maker

Mark Harris, Author Dutton Books $21 (224p) ISBN 978-1-55611-397-0
Novels about writers are relatively rare, no doubt because writing lacks the obvious drama of police work for instance, or of the law. Novels about writers in which the drama turns on the act of writing--as opposed to, say, a fan's revenge, as in King's Misery -- are rarer still. In his absorbing but flawed new novel (after Speed ), Harris goes far toward creating such a true rarity, only to bail out into strained satire and melodrama. The ``tale maker'' is Rimrose, whose story begins when he enters college. There, he meets a slew of memorable characters, most notably Kakapick, a geeky loner who shadows Rimrose, resenting his way with words and women even as he tries to bask in a reflected glory. In passages rich with author Harris's love and understanding of his craft, Rimrose learns to fashion short stories, some great; meanwhile, Kakapick aims to quantify and level the art through statistical analysis. Years pass, and while artist Rimrose achieves fame but no fortune, critic Kakapick rises to academic celebrity, chairing the English Department at their alma mater and offering Rimrose a post. A natural teacher, Rimrose is happy; but Kakapick remains an outcast from creativity and life, a stalker rather than a doer, until he gets his just deserts. Throughout, Rimrose's struggles to forge art from life fascinate, but Kakapick is too easy a target, and the novel finally sinks under Harris's heavyhanded contrast of creators vs. critics. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/30/1994
Release date: 06/01/1994
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