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Review of The Pinball Theory of the Apocalypse

Isabel Raven is an up and coming artist in this novel by Jonathan Selwood.
The closest thing I can think to compare this to is the movie "Art School Confidential." In that head to head comparison, The Pinball Theory of the Apocalypse is superior in every way.

In meeting his own stated objective with this book (he says, "I wanted The Pinball Theory of the Apocalypse to be the kind of novel you start while the plane pulls away from the jetway at LAX , and finish just as you land in New York.") Jonathan Selwood has proved highly successful.

His statement above reminds me of the sentiments I once heard someone from the TV show 24 say about their goal. It was something to the effect of that they hoped the people would say that the show was not necessarily good, but never boring. That in a way sums up how I felt about this book.

The Pinaball Theory of the Apocalypse is a very smooth, brief, and entertaining read. It is very much pulp entertainment, but is just the thing for a long plane ride, a lazy weekend trip to the beach, or a light read in the evenings Personally, I finished the book over two days reading in about 4 sessions. And that is saying a lot because many times I get to the middle of a book and either completely leave it aside, or take several weeks to get motivated to finish. Again, Selwood aimed for and the hit the target of "no mid-novel logorrhea to slog through," for which I am very grateful.

The book is full of profanity and vulgarity, so if you are averse to either thing, then you should stay away from this book. Personally, I prefer to avoid these things, but I can say that the things is this book were pretty much on par with the kinds of conversation I would overhear daily as a Public High School teacher in the Bronx, NY. The reason for them to be in the book is to give you feel for the kind of world that exists in certain parts of Los Angeles. That some characters are unabashedly profane and vulgar allows for you to form strong emotional reactions to them.

The plot to the book is pretty straightforward and is told in a nice linear progression with no intrusion from flashbacks or flash-fowards. The natural disasters show an environment in flux and tumult, that parallels the changes and tumults in the life of the main character, Isabel Raven, an artist arriving at the threshold of fame and commercial success.

That the main female character was written by a male author was something that I could not get out of my mind, as the words and deeds of the protagonist showed an oversexed individual. I took it to be as much as a revelation of the desires of the author as a commentary on the cultural subset of which the main character is a product.

The straightforwardness of the plot is counterbalanced against a cast of characters that includes several strange mixed escriptions. From the back jacket there is the disaffected Dutch-Eskimo billionaire philanthropist. There is also a 16 year old, Salt-Lake-City-born, lapsed Mormon Latina Britney Spears. Selwood also throws in a couple cliches like the ex-porn star neighbor lady, the eighty-year old former fitness guru.

In the case of the exotic nonsensical mixes, these superficial details do not forward the story in any meaningful way, but that could be taken as a comment on the superficiality of Los Angeles, flashy facade with no real purpose or use. The inclusion of these cliches, as well as others, can be seen a as commentary on the fact that so much of what goes on in and around Hollywood is cliche.

The entire book is full of what I would characterize as "digs at LA." They were sprinkled nice and evenly throughout the book, which kept me delighted, as I personally am not a fan of LA at all. That such a light book as this mentions 9/11 and the Twin Towers was a little bothersome to me. It did so only in passing, but by bringing something so heavy and loaded as that into such a pulp novel to me felt very heavy handed and was a short cut to explaining away a very minor and odd plot point.

One of the most interest parts of the book is the "about the author" section at the end of the book. It is very self-congratulatory in the sense that Selwood tells us how many drafts of the book he went through. It even includes an excerpt from one of his earlier drafts. I do not doubt that he is proud of his accomplishment, but almost every other author in world also goes through the struggles of rewriting and editing. This desire to share such behind the scene knowledge makes me conclude that he is product of coming of age in the DVD special bonus features age, and has seen fit to infuse this kind of added value to the book. On the back jacket we are also told that the story continues on a website, (At least worth a visit to actually see a mock-up of the paintings from the novel.) Not only that, but there is a spin-off website, where we can read more about the fictitious theory briefly touched on in the book.

Looking at other information in the about the author section I see some influence of the MySpace generation also showing through. Jonathan Selwood's self portrait seems like a profile photo someone would post online. The interview done with his friend, and the tongue in cheek "A Reading Group Guide" all come across that way. Even the author's biography has a social networking site feel to the format and presentation. Selwood seems to be trying very hard to come across like he's not trying that hard at all.

The last thing I will comment on is the VR surgery that Selwood mentions throughout the book. Apparently hearing about it throughout the book was not enough, because Selwood includes full-length sales pitches about the procedure in the "Read On" section at the end of the book. This is obviously a parallel to all the ED treatments and male enhancement products out there. The absurdity of the one effectively highlights the absurdity of the other, but I think the point was well made in the book without the need for dedicating four pages of "Read On" to the topic.

Though I did appreciate the informal study of Harvard University undergraduates cited in one of the ads.

by Cameron Hatch
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