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The Devil Won’t Care, by John Streby

June 2, 2011

GENERAL FICTION

The Devil Won’t Care

A novel of betrayal and retribution

The Devil Won’t Care delves into the career of Lanny Lessner, a journalist who rockets to fame and wealth with a hard-hitting documentary about the decline of his home town after a spate of factory closings. Revered by millions, Lessner seems poised to become the Ralph Nader of his generation.

But Lessner has a dark side, replete with shady dealings, antisocial behaviour, and mean-spirited hypocrisy. The filmmaker’s saga is retold by a friend and supporter, Warren Hill, whose narrative chronicles their relationship. As the story evolves, Hill confronts a growing body of evidence that Lessner, intoxicated by his celebrity status, is a crass, deceptive, manipulative phony, whose shortcomings mimic those of the targets of his pungent wit.

The Devil Won’t Care addresses some of the flaws of a dysfunctional society in which “What’s in it for me?” is the common denominator. Checkbook photojournalism, celebrity worship, reality TV and our sound-bite culture are all laid bare. On a broader level, the book is a morality tale in which the narrator is forced to confront his deepest fears and emotions, set against a backdrop of deception, atonement and redemption.

About the Author

John Streby is a connoisseur of Broadway musicals, pre-1930 phonographs and records, and films noir. His first novel, Rabbit Stew, dealt with the incestuous mix of law and politics, and featured several characters who appear in this book. Mr. Streby is currently writing a third novel, Follow the Money.

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There might well be an excellent story lurking in The Devil Won’t Care but much was obscured by the author’s bad writing habits, which really got in my way as I read. It was frustrating: I could hear echoes of John Grisham in this book, and once or twice even caught a whiff of Donna Tartt’s Secret History, which is one of my all-time favourite books: but those moments were rare, and they were swiftly buried beneath the author’s frequent lapses into verbosity and exposition.

There were several places where the author threw away what could have been scenes of great tension; and I found much of his description overwritten and far too lengthy. The author’s habit of telling the reader what had happened instead of showing us those events stopped me caring much about any of his characters or what happened to them; he frequently repeats information; and at times I felt that he was too self-consciously Doing Writing rather than telling us his story.

All of these small problems add up to a text which is slow-paced and waffly. But the biggest problem was that it was confusing: there was little flow in the text; the narrative was jerky and inconsistent; it skipped from subject to subject and back again with little consistency; and this lack of focus, along with the over-wordy vocabulary, made what should have been a fast-paced courtroom drama into a slow dull read

I suspect Mr. Streby could do so much better if he worked with a strong editor or took part in some good writing workshops: there’s the hint of a good, commercial book buried beneath his mistakes. I read eleven of this book’s four hundred and thirty five pages; but had I not been reading this for review, I wouldn’t have got past the anti-trade publishing rant which makes up the bulk of the book’s second paragraph. It’s astonishingly ill-informed and the idea of anyone with an ounce of commercial experience investing money in the business proposed is ludicrous. I strongly advise this writer to research the realities of business better before he writes any more about it.

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  1. June 2, 2011 at 10:19 am

    A warning to us all…

  2. cat
    June 2, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Memo to self (yet again) if it is worthy of publication then someone else will do it for me – self publication is not the road to travel down. (Wondering if I can bribe hprw into reading the first eleven pages og mine and telling me how bad it is. :-) )

  3. June 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    What a shame, this one sounded like it could have been interesting.

  4. DOT
    June 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    ‘og’ yours, cat? I fear you stumble in your parentheses. :)

  5. June 2, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I’m girding my loins. Not sure where mine (Root Cause: the Story of a Food Fight Fugitive) is in the queue, but I’m getting nervous. It did make the Q-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, but that ain’t likely to make it a winner with Jane. Wish me luck!

  6. June 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Sounds like a retread of Citizen Kane only with a filmmaker instead of a newspaper mogul.

  7. Jane Smith
    June 4, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Jim, I don’t think you’re going to have to wait too long for your book’s review. There’s no need to be nervous: I promise I’ll do my best to be kind to you and your book.

    And Josin, yes–you’re right. It does a bit. There are only so many stories in the world.

  8. June 21, 2011 at 1:18 am

    I realize that responding to criticism of a work of fiction is a questionable endeavor for the author himself, but part of Ms. Smith’s commentary fairly cries out for a rebuttal. She accuses me of being “astonishingly ill-informed,” based on dialog coming from the mouth of the book’s antagonist, a wealthy documentarian who has set up a grant program to enable local writers to “put their creative works in the best shape possible” and thereby “open doors that would otherwise be closed.” There is no suggestion that this antagonist proposes “investing money in the business proposed,” and therefore little basis for her rather condescending urge that I should “research the realities of business better” before writing about it. But there is great irony here: Ms. Smith says that I should have engaged a strong editor—not an inexpensive proposition, but exactly what the protagonist’s grant program would do. In short, this unfairly maligned second paragraph is no “anti trade publishing rant” but rather a recognition that there are, as the antagonist puts it so succinctly, “artificial barriers” within the publishing and film production industries that prevent many talented novelists and screenwriters from getting their works into print or onto the big screen. If Ms. Smith would prefer to think that the world of fictional writing is one vast meritocracy, let her think that, but I suspect that most people reading this know otherwise. Apparently I touched off a raw nerve, but I hope that anyone intrigued by the favorable parts of the commentary bear in mind that by abandoning the read after only 11 pages, leaving 425 unread, Ms. Smith did the equivalent of giving up on a 108-minute film after just 3 minutes of viewing. Others who have read “The Devil Won’t Care” have enjoyed it, and it even earned a highly laudatory review in the local newspaper. It should also be borne in mind that writing is a highly subjective pursuit, and what reads poetically to some readers may be deemed clumsy to others.

  9. June 25, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Mr Streby has commented about this review over at my other blog. There’s a link to it in the comments here, if you’d like to continue the discussion there.

  10. E.Van Johnson
    November 5, 2011 at 6:33 am

    I am always amused by the wide variety of comments left by reviewers of other peoples work. I run two writers groups and find some of my ladies almost vitriolic in their comments.
    Writing is not a gift given to everyone, and the fount of knowledge individuals have is sometimes quite astonishing.
    Rather than spurious, ill conceived criticism I encourage my writers to perform as a group and assist each other.
    I am always amazed at the lives some of my older writers have had and yet they try to write ‘commercial’ fiction rather than from their own experience.
    We all have different tastes and someone who reads romantic fiction should not try and review a Horror novel of modern fantasy.
    I once wrote a short story about the end of the world and what would replace it, using symbolism such as the Red Bear for Russia, The Yellow Dragon for China and Mother Nature as the new religion taken up by the survivors.
    Some of the critics who were members of let us just call them Established religious beliefs were scathing that I should dare not to mention their particular God.
    We writers put our souls on the line when we write. Please do not put the sole of your shoe on our neck when you comment on our efforts. Honestly we do try.

    E Van Jophnson

  11. John King
    November 6, 2011 at 9:11 am

    If you don’t want an honest and useful review, don’t send your book.

  12. Anonymous
    November 20, 2011 at 10:07 am

    I am inclined to agree with E. Van Johnson a lot more than John King. The world is full of Monday morning quarterbacks, pundits, ill-informed critics and others who derive spiritual gratification from deriding the performance of others, whether it is on the playing field, the stage, the screen, the political arena or the printed page. Back in July I went a few rounds with “The Self Publishing Review” over what I viewed was a shallow and superficial critique of my novel, “The Devil Won’t Care,” and I don’t intend to reactivate that battle, except for one issue that wasn’t explored earlier. At the top of the review, under the heading “tags,” is a list of 25 negative or derogatory words and phrases that, one would presume, all apply to the writing. There isn’t a single “positive” word in the group. But when you compare the list of tag words to the text of the critique, most of the tag words are conspicuously absent. But even more to the point, many people wouldn’t even bother to read more after seeing the laundry list of negative buzzwords that appear to have been copied from some arbitrary checklist that excludes anything whatsoever that is positive. Is this a fair way to open a review? And if the reviewer is going to use a checklist of adjectives, shouldn’t that checklist include some positive words, rather than just negative. Ms. Smith’s commentary did have a few kind words to say about the 11 pages she read, although not very many. Conclusions drawn after reading only 3% of a book are risky, perhaps akin to a drive-by real estate appraisal in which the appraiser sped past the property at 90 miles an hour. Those who take the time to read a whole book are better able to comment intelligently.

  13. Jane Smith
    November 22, 2011 at 6:42 am

    You’re doing yourself no favours with this carping.

    The tags that I use in my reviews come from the notes I make as I read through your book. I’m not going to add a few positive ones just to make things a little more palatable for the authors concerned: I prefer to be honest.

    If you don’t like the way I review books here, you shouldn’t have submitted your book for review. I’m completely open about how I work: and I bet if I’d have given you a more positive review you wouldn’t be complaining no matter how few pages I’d read.

    I know it’s easier to find fault with me and my review than to accept that your writing wasn’t good enough to engage me but perhaps you should stop to consider how agents, editors and readers select the books they want to represent, publish or buy. They read the first few pages.

  1. June 22, 2011 at 4:48 pm
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