If you could see the future, what would you do? And don’t give me that “play the stock market” or “I’d be all over Draftkings” blah blah blah. That’s Hollywood stuff. You know what most people would do? Pretty much what Casey Banks, the protagonist of Peter Rosch’s third novel, does; put himself on the open market. $5k for a reading – no ups, no extras, as Earl Schieb used to say. Folks would give you a bunch of cash and you would give them a bunch of info about what was coming for them. And that would be that. Pretty sweet, actually. Just as long as people, you know, showed up with the money.
But they would show up, of course, because the world is full of desperate unhappy people who want to know the true source of their desperation and unhappiness. Or how much longer their desperation and unhappiness is going to last because, Jesus Christ, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
Now the good thing about desperate unhappy people is not only that there are so many of them, but that they all know each other. So not only would you have an enormous audience to sell to, but also one where word of mouth really bangs the drum. You do a reading for one and regardless of how it turns out, they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and faster than you can say “Faberge Organic Shampoo Commercial” you’ve got a line of miserable bastards out the door that would make Sylvester McMonkey McBean green with envy.
There is a downside to desperate unhappy people of course. Some of them invariably know people who are kind of in the business of making others desperate and unhappy. People who have made a career of it, stirring in ample quantities of mayhem, murder, violence and drugs. People who could really see the value of information that would keep them one step ahead of the cops, two steps ahead of the Federales and three steps ahead of every other murdering drug dealer in town. So if they found someone who could do that, well they’d probably figure out some way to lock him – that is, you – up in a tiny room and give him just enough reason to live to keep pumping out those predictions, but not enough to try to escape and help anyone else.
Now if you’ve read any of Mr. Rosch’s other books, then you can immediately understand why this sort of scenario would appeal to him: More or less normal people doing weird and shadowy things in the more or less weird and shadowy alleys and sidings of contemporary American society. Characters that Mr. Rosch draws with love and care, despite – maybe even because of – their flaws. Characters who are clearly living in a world that, even if they weren’t flawed, they would be utterly unprepared for.
And if all that is not enough to get you to buy the book, well then I can’t help you. It should be enough – Future Skinny is well-written and fast-moving and just a damn good distraction from whatever the hell cable news decides to drop on your head next. Plus there’s this nice little twisty thing that Rosch handles nicely, which you won’t want to miss. But if that’s not enough, well, so be it. I’ve done my job and now I want to explore an aspect of this book that Mr. Rosch may or may not have intended when he was writing it but that I couldn’t get out of my head for the whole two hundred and whatever pages. And that idea is this: is Casey’s talent as a “seer” really just a metaphor for every commercial creative’s talent as a creative?
It’s not as much of a stretch as it might sound. Casey has about as much control over his ability to “see” as you or I do over our ability to be “creative”. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. When he’s not feeling it, there are routines he goes through to make it happen. Because he, like you and me, is a professional, who understands that this isn’t just a parlor trick to amaze his friends, it’s a job now and you’re expected to deliver on demand. And anyone reading this has probably knows exactly what that’s like.
What’s interesting, though, and what kept rattling around in my head, were the ramifications of burning that creativity for things that feel – either directly or indirectly – reprehensible.
Because none of us are virgins. We’ve all done great work for awful people. We’ve all done great work for awful clients. We’ve all done great work for awful organizations. And we’ve all done any kind of work for any kind of whatever so we could just pay the rent, feed the kids, live to see another day. Casey does the same thing. I mean, sure, he’s dealing with a homicidal maniac and our maniacs are usually not homicidal. At least not all the time. But that’s really just a matter of degree, isn’t it? Like the punchline to the old Winston Churchill joke – “madam, we’ve already established what you are, now we are just negotiating price.” So what does that say about us, about what we do, and about why? That we’re craven whores or that we’re noble martyrs, or both or neither in a world in where morality is a lot more fluid than we’d like it to be?
And to be clear, I’m not saying compromises are wrong. We all make the decisions we feel we have to make, the way we feel we have to make them. I just didn’t expect to be thinking about my career in that context when I opened up a novel about a vomiting (did I not mention the vomiting? Sorry, yeah, there’s vomiting) seer in the Arizona desert.
Can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.