John Blumenthal, Author . St. Martin's $12.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-312-31188-9

A neurotic Hollywood screenwriter turns hypochondria into an art form in Blumenthal's debut novel, a monotonous, under-plotted affair that revolves around the ever-expanding, pseudo-imaginary symptomology of Martin Dorfman. As the book opens, the 40-ish Dorfman's career is on the skids, which causes him to suffer everything from belly pains to cold sweats and vicious headaches. Dorfman imagines the worst with each successive symptom, but despite his gloomy predictions of cancer or some deadly, obscure disease, the best the doctors can come up with is a case of intestinal edema that they treat with a one-week prescription for a common drug. Blumenthal pens a few funny scenes around his protagonist's medical maladies, particularly when Dorfman meets an equally neurotic actress named Delilah Foster, and they match symptoms and try to one-up each other with medical horror stories. Unfortunately, Dorfman's ailments prove severely limiting as a vehicle for an entire novel, and the closest Blumenthal comes to developing a real plot is a series of scenes featuring Dorfman's screenplay, which undergoes a labyrinthine adventure of its own that involves a prominent Hollywood producer, Dorfman's 300-pound agent, Gavin, and the usual cast of anonymous movie development sharks. The narrative flows smoothly, but spending an entire book with the whiny, sniveling Dorfman makes for a trying, tedious read. Blumenthal has written humorous essays for Playboy and Punch, and some wry wit surfaces here, but not enough to keep this novel from becoming the literary equivalent of a long wait in a doctor's office. Agent, Daniel Greenberg. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 08/04/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 232 pages - 978-0-9679444-0-1
Paperback - 310 pages - 978-1-5084-2030-9
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