cover image Fake Liar Cheat

Fake Liar Cheat

Tod Goldberg. Pocket Books, $12.99 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-7434-0056-5

Short fiction writer Goldberg's smarmy, self-congratulatory debut novel breaks little new ground in its quest to debunk shallow American notions of celebrity, materialism and self-fulfillment. His protagonist, Lonnie Milton, is the quintessential armchair nihilist. A 26-year-old denizen of Los Angeles, he's a fashionably cynical young man with a cushy sinecure of a job (he interviews and places temp workers), and no discernible ambition. When he meets the enigmatic and beautiful Claire Gooden, Lonnie finds himself helplessly smitten. Soon, he joins Claire in her favorite activity: dining at L.A.'s most fashionable restaurants and skipping out on the tab. One wouldn't think that this kind of juvenile behavior would instill the masses with revolutionary fervor, but in Goldberg's parodic universe, that's precisely what it does. Legions of poor, disenfranchised fools spring up, calling themselves ""Lonnie's Army"" and devoting themselves to that worthiest of causes, stealing food from posh eateries. In the midst of this massive social upheaval, Lonnie manages to get ditched by Claire, framed for the murder of a wealthy Middle Eastern tycoon, and pursued by L.A.'s infamous boys in blue. What follows is, more or less, a primer in puerile Gen-X satire 101, as filtered through a Bret Easton Ellis-like, brand-name-dropping sensibility. Goldberg's characters are cardboard and unsympathetic, his prose hollowly minimalist. Even worse, some of his plot devices seem to have wandered in from Chuck Palahniuk's superior Fight Club; Goldberg goes so far as to allow Lonnie's intonation of anti-consumerist phrasesD""Nike, the all-knowing Nike, the all-fearing, all-loving, all-the-clothes-I'll-ever-need Nike, tells me Just Do It""Decho the rhetorical style of Palahniuk's own priceless creation, Tyler Durden. This kind of derivative plotting and speechifying could surely have sunk Fair Liar Cheat; surely, that is, but for the fact that withered humor and sophomoric attempts at social relevancy have already done the job. (July)