Sol Luckman,
Beginner's Luke
(Lulu, 2007)

Sol Luckman and his publicist (who may be a stronger writer than Luckman, himself) are quick to call this work (and the series to which it belongs) nonserious fiction. I am not quite sure what that means, for Beginner's Luke isn't overtly comedic nor is it overly satirical. Whereas it is full of dissatisfaction and social criticism, for a work of fiction it comes across as dull, flat and quite sophomoric.

This novel seems to be a few otherwise disparate and mediocre short stories sloppily patched together with the aid of some post-adolescent memories and leftover emotional stirrings. The short stories were most likely written for a Creative Writing 101 class, as is hinted at in a couple of chapters. Fellow classmates' criticisms of the writing are offered as well. I believe one classmate, when confronted one-to-one, said he likes it, and apparently that same classmate became the author's newest best friend, guide and savior (all in three pages, somewhere towards the end).

When his surroundings get boring or too tough, Luckman's protagonist, Luke Soloman, finds he has the ability to walk through walls into different times of his imagined past. Stylistically I believe this is something akin to waking up and realizing "it was just a dream" -- a no-no we've all been taught in grade-school composition class. What makes it all the more cliche and confusing is that all these events are only the author's imagined past, or so he claims. Though I must wonder: if I were going to write a novel about my imaginary past, why would I fill it with acute alienation, isolation and sexual frustration (and all the other usual teen angst)?

Luckman or Soloman or whoever he is (for author and narrator get lost in one another as a poor man's Proust, though evoking Proust is certainly hyperbolic) seems to lowly esteem contemporary fiction as worthless and unoriginal at every turn. He even prefaces the book with a "Manifesto for a New Fiction," in which it is obvious he has overlooked a great number of visionary contemporary writers (I'd start with Victor Pelevin and Lydia Millet for starters). Despite his disregard for the fiction of the day, three or four times throughout the book, he offers neat, cozy, little writerly paragraphs, full of trite sentence after trite sentence depicting the weather. Writing of one October: "The sky played like a 'Rhapsody in Blue' for the eyes with a jazzy accompaniment of woodwind breezes and percussive acorns. The days were cotton candy, mirages of warmth and light." Now, these words wouldn't be so bad on their own, except Soloman spends the rest of his book denouncing such language. So, along with pretentiousness, digressiveness and pervasive self-contradictoriness, I suppose we can add hypocrisy to the scorecard.

And what makes it all worse (which also makes it all the more sophomoric)? The book's back cover promises much (and here is why I suspect that the publicist may be a better writer than the author): "While titillating in the rambunctious traditions of Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, this visionary debut equally impresses as a work of literary art. Luke's signature obsessions with self, sex, satire and slapdash highlight a serious point: consciousness creates."

So, here I was, excited to read this, expecting some hipper version of Dan Millman's Way of the Peaceful Warrior, looking forward to see where the new age movement and rawer forms of counterculture could come together. Unfortunately, as can be gathered from all of the above, it doesn't come close to delivering. This does remind me, however, that our narrator (and publicist, too, for that matter -- and maybe they are one and the same as well) enjoys a bit of name-dropping throughout, something I've been told is another rookie mistake, for I know I have been guilty of it myself on numerous occasions.

Whereas I would like to call this a young-adult novel, the subject matter itself (with numerous references to drugs and sex, for Luke is a very horny teen) may at times be a bit much for your average, well-adjusted and literate high school student. Except maybe for those literate and rebellious kids, but I imagine they can find more fun in their own hi jinx rather than sludge through this waste of ink and paper. Lucky for us though, Beginner's Luke is being published by Lulu Press, which I believe is a print-on-demand company, so perhaps some trees will be spared the unfortunate fate of being bound within these covers.

Although I am not necessarily one to do so, I reckon Luckman should have listened to his classmates' criticisms after all. It would have saved the few hours I wasted reading and writing about this book.

Being the first in a new series, Beginner's Luke must be an important introduction into wonderful things to come (which is to say I must have overlooked something if there are at least four more installments of this garbage on its way). Otherwise, I see no reason why this book should exist. Try your luck elsewhere.

review by
Kevin Shlosberg

9 June 2007

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