Morrissey is writing a novel. Will it explain how “meat is murder”? Will it be semi-autobiographical? Will it surpass the quality of Smiths Slash fanfiction
While awaiting answers to these questions, we can pass the time by taking a look at the following books—all of which sprung from the minds of established actors and musicians trying their hands at a different craft. Some of the novels
are masterfully written, while others are just
plain strange. In either case, read on…
Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson
Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality (33 1/3) by John Darnielle
The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry
Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
NNNNN: A Novel by Carl Reiner
Palo Alto by James Franco
Paradise Alley by Sylvester Stallone
Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Wildwood by Colin Meloy
A hyperactive polymath of the British Isles, Craig Ferguson penned the novel Between the Bridge and the River in 2006. The novel features a plot bursting at the seams with excess characters and pithy wisdom. Its mechanics are far too obtuse to recount here, but, suffice it to say, the book’s principle pleasure lies in Ferguson’s blithe skewering of both British and American culture.
The 33 1/3 series, which produces book-length analyses of seminal albums, has yet to pitch a straight loser. But even among this impressive society, John Darnielle’s Master of Reality stands in a league of its own. Darnielle, best known as the songwriting dynamo behind Mountain Goats, wrote his analysis of Black Sabbath’s most famous album in the form of a novel. Master of Reality follows the exploits of an institutionalized teenager who finds solace in Sabbath’s music. Compelling both as a narrative and a wholesale demolition of music criticism’s tropes, Master of Reality is well worth a read.
Hugh Laurie possesses a restless talent, yet he services his muse with great patience and yields impressive results. The Gun Seller, Laurie’s first novel, is a comic tale of espionage imparted with a Wodehousian stiff upper lip. Laurie respects the boundaries of his talent, and he has produced a fine tale that easily stands beside his work as an actor.
Frequent partners in crime Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry have embarked on multiple projects together, and while their literary efforts have taken place in seclusion, there’s still an air of camaraderie to the pair’s successes. Fry, typically an actor and a playwright, has written several comic novels, all of which offer plenty of cause for delight. The Hippopotamus, the most balanced of Fry’s efforts, illuminates the tale of an aged curmudgeon with the sharp wit typical of all things Fry.
One of the Pacific Northwest’s more notable, flannel-clad scribes, Willy Vlautin has made significant contributions to both the region’s music and literature. Lean on Pete offers a hard-luck tale of horse racing, poverty and adolescence presented in the brusque mode of Bukowski and Fante.
Carl Reiner’s NNNNN concerns the exploits of an established author working on his own version of the Book of Genesis. Questionable psychologists enter the fray, as do a forgotten childhood and a character named Dr. Gertrude Trampleasure. It’s kind of a mess. But, then again, it’s also a charming mess, springing as it does from the mind of Reiner.
Several years have passed since pop culture surpassed the James Franco saturation point, and in the barren wilderness beyond, it’s hard to separate the essential Franco from the superfluous Franco. Palo Alto, Franco’s debut collection of short fiction, falls somewhere near the “superfluous” end of the scale. A series of linked tales narrated by teenagers residing in the titular California suburb, Palo Alto comes close to justifying its existence on its own terms (even if it ultimately makes a strong case for Franco sticking to his acting career).
Sylvester Stallone possesses a small bit of genius—not literary genius, mind you, but a sort of horse whisperer’s instinct for the preferences of the American masses. Paradise Alley, which served as his 1978 debut as both a director and a novelist, displays Stallone’s instinctive grasp of the underdog narrative and his complete ignorance of almost everything else. Thick with Italian American patois and stereotypes as broad as the Hudson, Paradise Alley provides a fascinating look into the mind of a man who has enjoyed a disturbing amount of success in 20th-century America.
Woe be unto the man or woman who underestimates Steve Martin. A polyglot with proven talent in the realms of acting, comedy, music and production, Martin added some literary bona fides to his résumé with 2001’s Shopgirl. The novella follows the exploits of an apathetic retail clerk as she navigates relationships and gloves. Brilliant? Not really, but still far better than your average MFA student.
For Colin Meloy, songwriter and lead singer of The Decemberists, the jump to writing fiction seemed like a logical one. Borrowing from the mood and lexicon of The Chronicles of Narnia, Wildwood imparts a fantastic tale that transpires in the woods outside of Portland, Oregon. Babies are stolen, animals assemble militias and a fantasy novel of above-average quality emerges from the Northwestern woods.
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