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Gotham Tragic

by Kurt Wenzel

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


Gotham Tragic by Kurt Wenzel
ISBN: 0316094005.
Little, Brown & Company, 2004
"All Muslims are mad, of course. Not mad in the sense of angry, though they are certainly that, but daffy mad, glazed-eyed-crazy-stare mad, ipso facto mad." So go the controversial words of author Kyle Clayton, the star of Kurt Wenzel's quick moving new novel Gotham Tragic, the sequel to his debut Lit Life. It is with these words, which begin a New Yorker style fiction piece, that Clayton lands himself in the sights of a group of militant Muslims, who, angered by Kyle's offensive diatribe, call a fatwa against the author, effectively placing a bounty on the head. And this is just the beginning of Kyle's troubles.

Wenzel's novel which is an amusing look at the New York publishing hi-life is peppered with, well, exactly the kind of people you'd expect to be there - there's Clayton, the arrogant, lecherous author whose riding the success of his first novel; Patience Birquet, his brassy agent; Erin Wyatt the waitress/actress looking for her big break; and Lonny Tumin whose kind of like Donald Trump, but less cute and cuddly; as well as a smattering of other New York types including the legions of snarling Muslims ready to take a snap at Clayton as soon as they have the chance. This comes much to the delight of Patience who sees it all as a grand opportunity for publicity.

Oh, and did I mention that Clayton is a Muslim himself, though he's not even quite sure why he converted, except for the fact that it allowed him to marry his beautiful, and caring wife Ayla, and enter her rigidly unaccepting Muslim family. Much of the tension in Wenzel's novel revolves around Kyle's bullheadedness towards Ayla's father and vice-versa. It is Kyle's own conversion, and his relationship with Ayla's family that are the inspiration for his acid-tongued story.

Much of the action of Wenzel's novel takes place at City, the chic restaurant owned by corporate mogul, soft drink magnate, and all-around-jerk Tumin, who is facing a maelstrom of bad press after hurling a racial slur at a black groundskeeper at his golf course who subsequently threatens to sue Lonny right out of his Brooks Brothers slacks if he doesn't pay up. Hoping to counteract the event with some good publicity, Lonny asks his associate Don Westly to get him a cover story profile in a hip magazine to get his name back in the people's good graces. Who does Westly pick to do this piece, but Kyle Clayton, who needs a little bit of good press of his own.

Wenzel does a good job at tying the lives of his three main characters together without having to force their relationships. And the three stories - Kyle's struggle to get back to the literary A-list, Erin's attempt to break in to show business, and Tumin's scramble to keep his name clean as he attempts to float another business venture on the market - hold strong in their own rights. But Wenzel clutters up the story with an untrackable number of sub plots and narrative devices.
Some are intriguing and help flesh out the characters, like Westly's struggle to move out from under Tumin's wing, while others, like the reappearance of Clayton's imaginary friend and drink pourer "Mr. Nightcap," seem to come out of nowhere and serve only to distract the reader from the larger framework of the story.

The novel culminates with a gala Millennium New Year's Eve ball at City where New York's hoitiest and toitiest come to party like it's 1999, because, well it is. Complete with a scale ice sculpture of the pre 9/11 Manhattan skyline, including two melting twin towers, the City affair will certainly be one to remember for Kyle and all of the guests involved and Wenzel does well setting up the tension at the event and opening up the possibility for a number of different outcomes.

Wenzel is a good writer and he knows how to set up a story, and tell you just enough without overdoing it. Unfortunately the comedy in the novel seems a little narrow, poking fun over-and-over at the immigrant workers at City, and the Muslims who fiend after Clayton lack the depth they would require to be believable villains.

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