HELPING HOWARD

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At first, Schloss’ debut book seems to be a simple, postmodern narrative deconstruction. It begins with the voice of “the Author” waking the titular hero, Howard, from a slumber and promising to help Howard with his marriage; in turn, she will write a novel starring him. As the chapters continue, the Author asserts control, revising the book and blurring the lines between the process of writing and the process of reading. Schloss effectively uses her story as a tool to consider the act of creation but also, and more importantly, as a way to show how people can become attached to their fictional constructs. What plays out is a beautifully messy series of relationships: Unremarkable, straight Howard and his cool, artistic lesbian wife, T.J.; Howard and his growing daughter, Sinclair; and Howard and the Author herself. Schloss balances her metafictional premise with springy, playful language encapsulated best in scenes of italicized dialogue between subject and author. Through the lens of Howard’s life and relationships, the novel intriguingly focuses on the psychology of its characters and what they reveal about the Author. And indeed, as Schloss unlocks the pathos of her players, the reader comes to know the Author best of all. Sprinkled throughout are scenes with Howard and his therapist, Dr. Glick, and the entire book eventually becomes a form of Freudian psychoanalysis, with each major character confronting hidden memories. As playfulness turns to poignance and back to playfulness again, the novel reads a bit like John Updike by way of French director Michel Gondry, with all the heartbreak and panache that entails.

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