No Mad by Sam Moffie

Sam Moffie’s No Mad (get it?) is (unfortunately, because I really was ready to like this novel) a perfect example of why self-published books are generally given a bad rap. This book is a mess. I suppose it could be left at that and No Mad could just be tossed onto the pile of the myriad other self-published tomes already littering the internet, but by the same token, it can also be said that having a strictly bad review on a site such as this one can, if nothing else, quiet any critics who seem to believe that self-published material is given an easier pass than those books that are traditionally published. My apologies then to Mr. Moffie, for being unfortunate enough to have had his book come across my desk, as here he will suffer the fate of the exemplar who, like the seemingly random music file-sharers prosecuted by the RIAA, is publicly ridiculed for his complete misfire of a novel. At least he isn’t being ordered to pay some exorbitant amount of money for his sins… though perhaps if self-publishers of (sub)sub-par lit were to face such a metaphorical firing squad, they would be much more sure that what they were putting out there had some kind of—ANY kind of—worth to the reading public before they did so.

I wanted to like this book. I wanted to LOVE it, truth be told. It had the earmarks of a great story, and one I could personally relate to on many levels. It’s about a writer (check) who gets the book deal of his life (check), only to have his wife drop a giant bomb on top of him (check) before going on a life-changing road trip (check and mate—the guy had me at hello, before his prose landed with a dull thud in my exploding brain). The immediate horror of actually reading the text, however, quickly destroyed any hopes I had of any kind of epiphany or even common experience, much less something that could hold my attention for more than ten minute intervals before I had to put the book down again.

The (major major major) problem with this book is that almost none of it rings true, on any level whatsoever. We are presented with a main character who is a writer that has a friendship with his powerful (stereotyped) agent (a lesbian named Jane—see?) who is about as smart as a bucket of hair. Example exchange:

“No one remembers the writers in today’s society. Just the actors. “Animal House,” who wrote it Jane?” [I have no idea what is going on with the punctuation in this line of dialog.]

She thought for a few seconds.


“Belushi? Akroyd? Matheson?” she guessed. [Yes, everyone thinks the main actors in a film are also the writers, especially previously noted-as-intelligent literary agents.]

“Wrong on all three. If you were a baseball player, you would have struck out.”

Jane had been one-upped. She didn’t like that, but she admired this guy’s guts. He was going to be a great client. [WTF?]

“It was Doug Kenney,” said Aaron. [Moffie’s bold.]

“Who?” Everyone at the table said at the same time.

Boy did Aaron wish he were playing Jinx. [He actually TEACHES the ‘game’ of [J]inx to Jane’s assistant, with whom he has sex the night he meets her, after absolutely no explanation AT ALL of how he could be so deft as to bed a woman he just met after being supremely betrayed by his wife of more than two decades.]
Boy, is this guy going to be a great writer
, Jane thought to herself. [Yes, and we can all see how she so obviously came to such a resounding conclusion.]

The preceding 120 or so words just about sums up everything that is wrong with this novel. It reads like a writer’s dream of being acknowledged more than actually resembling anything close to real life within its 300+ pages. If you are going to open a book about a guy getting a book deal worth a hundred grand, who is about as smug as any bastard ever portrayed in the pages of any novel ever—let alone in the annals of self-publishing, as the writer portraying such incidents you need to do something to make the reader agree that the protagonist actually deserves such a windfall. There is nothing resembling that here, unless you count a halfwit of an agent thinking he is going to be a great writer because he knew who wrote the screenplay for Animal House. Furthermore (sorry I am beating this into the ground, people, but I have word count to achieve), the main emotional striking points one would expect from a book on such resounding emotional subject matter (man is betrayed by wife with his own brother) are completely absent. I’m not saying that everyone would have the same reaction to this kind of life-altering situation, but Moffie doesn’t explore it at all. It’s as though he uses this set-up merely as a convenient excuse to send his protagonist on what he (the writer) considers to be a witty road trip beginning in “Pennsly-fucking-vania” (his spelling, and one which drove me about insane after seeing it misspelled for the 50th time in the same number of pages). For the record: it is spelled Pennsylvania, which, for anyone taking notes, literally means “Penn’s Woods.” Yes. Sylvania, Mr. Moffie, means woods. I’d put that in bold, but I don’t want to come across as too witty. God knows it might take away from the point of this review.

In its defense, however, the book does seem like it could (possibly) be appealing to Baby Boomer men who don’t read a lot—No Mad contains many classic rock references, and they are all in bold so that once the satisfied reader has completed his task, he can then flip through the book looking for bold print, and then make himself a nice little i-tunes compilation to take him back through the magical mystery that is No Mad. There’s a market for pet rocks and bottled air, so I would be remiss to think that there cannot exist someone out there who could like this book.

  • Shane

    haha I love when book reviewers are so speechless they have to resort to WTFs.

    I wholeheartedly endorse an upsurge in scathing reviews within the self-published community. Without professional editors acting as gatekeepers to filter out the bad we really have to do it ourselves and I’d be happy to see more homegrown B.R. Myers ’round here.

    Granted, a more positive approach may be to just focus on and actively promote the good stuff, but either way it’d be insincere to pretend that most self-published lit isn’t substandard, and reviews like this at least show some veracity.

    “Wait did Brad Pitt wright Fight Klub?!?! Who rote dat?!” – Paul Brooks, Vice President of Houghton Mifflin

  • Megan

    I would hate to ever read a review like this about my own stuff, but I have to admit I love it when a reviewer just throws it all out there. I also agree with Shane that the posting of bad reviews along with the good makes a publication more credible.

  • Frank, thank you keeping the bar up. I’m not saying keeping the bar “high” because it’s a pretty low bar that this author didn’t jump over, based on what I see here. It’s absolutely necessary for the future of self-publishing that this kind of unprofessionalism gets called for what it is, from inside the indie culture. That said, I say an empathetic “ouch” for him, and I tremble at the thought of reviews yet to come for my new story collection… (but really, I don’t tremble that much; I know I did better than this).

  • Shane, where did you find that quote of Paul Brooks? That’s priceless.

  • Greg

    I read the book and loved it! A book the average person can enjoy.
    This review is just one of many examples of why those from the self titled publishing elite are out of touch with what the real people want to read. If this is the smugness, attitude and arrogance of those that run the publishing houses then it’s no surprise that the self-published book publishers are in business.
    This review is a perfect example of how this business works; you have what one can only describe as a self-centered, arrogant, elitist book critic living in his ivory tower. He doesn’t have a clue what the average person likes. So he finds a book to tear apart so he looks good to his follow elitist and elitist want-to-be’s who also have their heads up their you know what, which is why Shane, Megan, Brent & Gwendolyn have the brown stuff on their faces. They probably haven’t even read the book.
    Get real people! This is a good book. I can’t wait until Mr. Moffie’s next book.
    Thank you for the self-publishers of the world!! Sounds like the publishing elite are feeling the pressure.
    FYI – I’m a Baby Boomer male and I read a lot!

  • I want to respond to this, Greg. First, it’s sort of laughable to say that people who write for a self-publishing site are elitists. Second, the first draft of this review was actually harsher than this, but I asked Frank to put in a positive word or two about readers who might like this book. I read some of the book and it’s not a total mess and I thought some people could enjoy it – people who maybe read two books a year, i.e. people who don’t care about “good” writing. There are a lot of people who fit that description – so many in fact that every book ever written, no matter how poorly written, probably has someone who likes it.

    But Frank knows good writing because he’s a good writer, and he’s reviewing in a more general sense. I think he’s basically right about the book. Doesn’t make him elitist, makes him accurate for more readers. He doesn’t have a clue what the average person likes. Maybe he doesn’t want a book to be average and he’s entitled to that opinion.

    I think I’ll write a post about this – that readers habits are changing and don’t seem to care if a book is crap or not and so reviewers shouldn’t be reviewing if a book is “good,” just if it can have an audience. Problem is there’s an audience for every book, maybe just not a big one.

  • Mark Mezeros

    All reviews are subjective. I’m a baby-boomer and I enjoyed the book… does that make me someone who only reads 2 books a year? Does that make me someone who doesn’t know what good or bad writing is? I see that one of your other contributors — Mr. Norm Goldman gave Mr. Moffie a terrific review not only on No Mad, but on his second book — The Organ Grinder and the Monkey (which I intend to read over the long Labor Day weekend).

    Mr. Baum… your bias is showing with the fact that Mr. Daniels has praised your writing… and he yours. That’s okay… I intend to purchase and read both of your novels and form my own opinion.

    PS: I didn’t know that “Pennsly…fucking…vania” was a real word.

  • Constance

    N. Frank Daniels book was endorsed by Jiim Frey… that’s like having George Bush (the younger) endorse you for political office.

  • My bias is that I think Frank Daniels is a better writer than Sam Moffie. I’m entitled to that. Frank’s been endorsed by a lot of other writers too, and ripped into Frey repeatedly – but it’s pretty weak to attack the reviewer to make the review seem illegitimate.

    I’ll admit it, I opened up myself up when I said that you could only appreciate this book if you don’t understand good writing. I think the writing in this book is bland and lacks urgency – the opposite of Daniels’ writing, which compels you to keep reading. Again, subjective. Am I the sole arbiter of what makes “good” writing? Of course not – but I do think it’s something like porn: you know it when you see it. And I think this book is pretty lightweight – a good read if you don’t want to be challenged, but not exactly inspired writing either.

  • Frank Daniels

    Man, was it tempting for Frank Daniels to not even respond to the sudden upsurge in interest in a review of a book that was posted over a week earlier. If Frank had been a betting man, he would have bet that some ‘agent’ had had his feelings hurt and emailed a few of his friends to pick up the pieces of his shattered writer ago by making the following ridiculous accusations:

    Calling this site the “self titled publishing elite”. Frank scratched his head at that, as he wasn’t even sure what the “self titled publishing elite” was, much less if it was any different than the more widely known “self publishing elite”, which in itself wasn’t even nearly as well known as the “regular publishing elite.”

    Frank got a chuckle when he was in any way associated with elitist publishing at all. He had a past history with that phrase himself, but on the handing out end. Could it be that his hubris had overtaken his good sense and that now he had become the very thing he had detested about Big Publishing a mere three years prior? Nah, Frank thought to himself, ‘I can’t be an elitist just because I am traditionally published. That would be ridiculous.” Frank then got in his Ferrari and drove over to his friend James Frey’s mansion where he and James then delighted themselves by breaking people’s hearts, not being drug addicts (or alcoholics), and burning other aspiring writers’ crappy self-published books in James Frey’s mansion’s giant Xanadu-esque fireplace. They had a secret laugh between them because they knew that they were part of an ultra-secret society which protected the ultra-secret that the Orson Welles movie Citizen Kane was based on real-life asshole–I mean newspaper magnate–William Randolph Hearst. It was so delightful to be part of elite stuff, James Frey said over a newly-roasting copy of some other crappy Sam Moffie book. Yeah it totally was.