Book of the Week: Christopher Beha’s ‘Arts & Entertainments’

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“Handsome” Eddie Hartley has “substandard sperm.” He’s been working with his wife to get pregnant, buying all sorts of expensive remedies (including $200 pillows), and now the only chance they have at starting a family is by going to the very expensive Hope Springs Fertility Center. The problem is, Eddie, a failed actor who is “good-looking in an entirely conventional way,” doesn’t make all that much money working as a drama teacher at the Catholic prep school he went to, and can’t even catch a break trying to get a job as a temp.

He pretty much has zero options, until he meets a friend of a friend whose business card lists him as a “Meme Evangelist,” who gives him the sort of Faustian deal that has been at the heart of many great stories: Eddie has a sex tape he made with a now-famous ex-girlfriend, and quite a few people would be more than interested in getting their hands on it. Eddie makes the guy he’s selling it to promise it won’t get back to him, that it can look like it was stolen, and Eddie had nothing to do with it, but nothing ever works out like that.

Without ruining things for you, things fall apart, people get hurt, people become celebrities, people lose their jobs, people make lots of money. The media gets a hold of the story, and they control the narrative. It’s all deliciously fucked up, and Beha’s story works so well, you’d think he had a front row seat watching some real life non-celebrity celebrities (you know, the people that get money and attention for really doing nothing at all: from Paris Hilton to Jon Gosselin, those cultural black holes that are famous just because they’re famous), and the things they do to hold on to those fifteen minutes.

What people do for money and fame, and just how much of the controversies we see on “reality” television and gossip shows gets contorted and manipulated, that’s at the heart of Beha’s followup to his fantastic debut novel What Happened to Sophie Wilder. It’s a shift in direction from his more gripping and complex first novel, but one that shows off Beha’s versatility. It’s the funny type of social satire that is less LOL, more, “God, our society is so messed up that this could easily be real, and all I can do is laugh about it,” and that’s what makes it such a treat to read.