cover image MOURNING WOOD


Daniel Paisner, . . Volt, $21.95 (362pp) ISBN 978-1-56625-209-6

Paisner, a frequent collaborator on celebrity bios, plays a cheeky game of cat-and-mouse in his debut novel, which revolves around a famous but fading movie actor who fakes his death and creates a bizarre new existence for himself. Terence Wood is the thespian protagonist whose encounter with the muddy, icy roads of coastal Maine proves disastrous when his SUV goes off a cliff and into the water. Wood survives the accident, but instead of reporting it and providing the media with more celebrity scandal, the Maine native decides to hide out in a nearby fishing village, where he lands an unlikely gig working as a costumed lobster in a local theme park and falls for an overweight but attractive diner waitress called Grace, who is nicknamed "Two Stools." Meanwhile, an obituary writer for a prominent Maine paper named Axel Pimletz lands a book deal to polish an autobiographical manuscript Wood left behind, after fraudulently pasting together a final newspaper tribute to Wood. Pimletz struggles to finish the book with a libidinous assist from one of Wood's ex-wives. Paisner's terse but breezy style makes for a fast, engaging read, and Wood has more than enough character to carry the novel, especially with some strong comic relief from the hapless, bumbling Pimletz. But the ex-wife gags fall flat; another tangent involving the travails of Wood's son, Norman, is perfunctory; and despite Pimletz's funny moments, the potential of the biography subplot goes largely unrealized. Paisner recovers nicely with a sharp, funny ending, but the novel's various parts never quite cohere. (Feb.)