Famous After Death

Benjamin Cheever, Author Crown Publishers $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-609-60005-4
Merrily narrated in academic editor-speak, journal entries and letters, Cheever's latest satire (after The Plagiarist and The Partisan) opens in 1988 with Noel Hammersmith's description of his prison interview with Barbara Walters. Apotheosized to celebrity as the Wordsworth Bomber, who kills to protest today's shoddy manufacturing techniques, Hammersmith at last achieves his intense desire for fame. What wittily follows is ""The Compleat Wordsworth Bomber,"" the pseudo-nonfictional account of how Noel, a seemingly mild-mannered and unhappily overweight editor of diet books, makes his way to prison. When we pick up Noel's story in 1984, he has been dumped by his latest girlfriend and has four desires: to be thin, tall, loved and, most of all, famous, which he has gathered is most easily achieved by violence. Noel is the victim of an '80s-style shakeup; his new boss, ""business-type"" Alan A. Tollah (aka Ayatollah), promotes Noel, but then is fired himself, and Noel's job is usurped by a trainee. Noel vents by sending letters of complaint to manufacturers of shoddy goods, and nurses a would-be writer who promises a book on terrorism. Noel also devises a plan with his best friend, a lawyer, to exchange letters that they both hope will guarantee them in death the fame that eluded them in life. When bombs start going off in Noel's vicinity and seem suspiciously connected to the frustrated Noel (who's also suffering from severe memory loss), his innocence and sanity come into question. Is he the bomber, or is he the unwitting pawn of the would-be terrorist or of the government? Tongue-in-cheek and often outrageous, this thoroughly entertaining spoof is, sub rosa, a serious critique of contemporary culture's obsession with weight, celebrity and success. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-1-58234-087-6
Hardcover - 347 pages - 978-0-7862-2254-4
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