Christopher Beha is an editor at Harper’s Weekly and co-editor of Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction. But it is because of John Wilson at Books and Culture that I picked up this book.
Wilson mentioned Beha was one of the best modern Catholic novelists and I picked up Arts and Entertainments nearly a year ago when it was briefly on sale.
Like many fiction books, I tend to pick them up on recommendation without even reading the description. Honestly I am not sure I would have picked it up if I had read the full description or the reviews. Eddie Hartley is a washed up actor. He has returned to his Catholic High School as drama teacher in order to support himself and his wife.
After a long period of infertility and a lot of debt (both from bad spending and the infertility treatments) Handsome Eddie (as he was nicknamed in high school) decided to sell a sex tape of him and a former girlfriend, who is now a top rung actress. He mostly did it to pay for more infertility treatments and pay off old debt, but he did not really think through the whole thing and soon is out of a job and kicked out of the house by his newly pregnant wife.
It is here that the book, which has been good up until this point, starts revolving around the idea of celebrity culture in a much more focused way using a reality tv ‘story’. The guided stories, the mixing of real and fake lives, the point where you are in too far to get out, and bad actions for good intentions are all discussed in an way that is appropriate to the story.
This is not quite satire, but it is leaning in that direction. It reminds me most of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, but also of Christopher Buckley’s books. The character’s Catholic faith is mentioned, but it is not a significant role. This is not what I would consider ‘Christian Fiction’. There is language, a sex tape, drinking and drugs, etc. But there is a real critique of our modern notions of celebrity and a look at the directionality of culture and media that I think many Christians should hear.
I am not sure I would rate it as highly as John Wilson did, but I certainly am glad I read it and it is a book I read quickly and enjoyed. I put the rest of Beha’s books on my watch list and will pick them up eventually.