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.