On p. 125 of his novel, we have the following observation from Michael Loyd Gray (through Elliott Adrian, the principal character and Gray’s occasional mouthpiece in Not Famous Anymore):
“From birth to death, the American disease seems to be the need to get into someone else’s skin.
I wanted out of my own.”
Perhaps even more telling, on p. 141, we find the following:
“My hard shell of self-sufficiency had worn thin and I was feeling lonely. I was a man with all the means in the world and none of the purpose of much poorer people.”
It’s not easy for most of us mere mortals to identify—never mind sympathize—with a protagonist who’s famous, rich, seemingly devil-may-care, and looking for the exit door to all of it. The “everyman’s” suit of clothes just doesn’t fit—either the protagonist, or most readers’ sympathies with that protagonist. And even if, as the novel progresses, we get glimpses of the person behind the sunscreen and discover he’s not really so different from you or me, that he’s just more than the sum of us (and maybe of a few dozen others thrown into the bargain), we still can’t work up too much love and affection for him.
That said, I have to give Gray appropriate credit for accomplishing something no other author has accomplished—at least in my reading—since Leonard Elmore: he makes his characters come alive on the page through their dialogue. At times, that dialogue may seem trivial. But the truth is, most dialogue in life is trivial. The trick for an author is to make it believable, and Gray does that in spades. He brings his characters to life through what they say and how they say it—and whether we like them or not, we have to believe them for what they are.
Most literary works are either plot-driven or character-driven. This novel is neither; it’s dialogue-driven. And because the dialogue is so authentic, it and it alone drives both the plot and the characters in that plot.
I frankly can’t think of a higher compliment to pay a writer. To be able to put right-sounding words into the mouth of a character is no mean feat. (In fact, it’s the mainstay of a playwright.) To enable a reader to get a gut-level perception of a character through how he or she talks with others is, to my way of thinking, the mark of a master craftsman. And so, I’ll willingly anoint Michael Loyd Gray just that: Master Craftsman.
If you read this novel for no other reason, read it for the dialogue—and study how it’s done by the best in the business.
Author of Trompe-l’Œil
March 3, 2012