SOME OF YOU MAY KNOW that long ago, in the Second Age of Man, I was a Professional Literary Agent.
AND DURING THAT TIME, I had the great surprise to discover that my fun, unassuming, tall friend DARIN STRAUSS was actually--SECRETLY!--one of the best writers I had ever encountered.
HE WROTE A NOVEL called CHANG & ENG, which told the story Chang and Eng Bunker, the Siamese Twins for whom the term SIAMESE TWIN was coined. Specifically, he told the story from Eng's point of view, who narrates their conjoined tale during the brief period between his brother's death and his own--the only moment he was alone.
AN BRILLIANT, AMUSING GIMCRACK OF AN IDEA, no?
YES IT IS, but what startled readers more was Strauss's ability to inhabit this thrice foreign brain from long ago so completely and authentically, and to do so with such sensitivity, insight, and humor. IT WAS UNCANNY. How could Darin know so much about so much?
Indeed, after his next book, THE REAL MCCOY, about boxers and con men, Joe DiPietro spoke for all of Darin's friends and poker-mates when he speculated that perhaps Darin had secretly inherited a house full of manuscripts of unpublished novels and was quietly rolling them out as his own.
BUT THAT IS A SCURRILOUS RUMOR, spread by a barkeep. The truth is that Darin is simply a peerless liar, a fictioneer, a writer of real, honest-to-goodness big fat NOVELS.
NOW YOU MAY HAVE HEARD something about his latest, called MORE THAN IT HURTS YOU, on Craig Ferguson the other night. I did not work on that one at all. I confess that, as he worked on it, I was concerned that Darin was testing his limits.
THE 19th CENTURY and its twins and grifters is remote enough. But now he was writing about Long Island. Specifically: contemporary Long Island (where he is from) and the awful, emotional collisions that occur when a woman makes her own child sick (which Darin Strauss has never done).
THE BARKEEP and the other poker players went to NYU a year or so ago to hear him read from it for the first time. We were skeptical. But when he read it, we were weepy. HE HAD DONE IT AGAIN.
He had created a whole funny, sad, authentic world--one that is somehow all the more fascinating and powerful because it has no Siamese twins in it. JUST REGULAR PEOPLE, conjoined in other ways: white suburban parents and black ex-cons, obsessed doctors and one horribly ill mother--all twisting around each other so believably, and heartbreakingly, that you're quick to forget THEY ALL COME FROM DARIN'S HEAD.
LOOK, I NO LONGER RECEIVE COMMISSION ON DARIN'S BOOKS. My 15% is now earned in the pleasure I get in reading them (and the small fee I get for dipping them in silverplate and selling them on ebay).
SO MY RECOMMENDATION IS GENUINE.
I will be buying his book today.
And I and the Barkeep and all the rest will be going to hear him read in NYC tonight.
I HOPE YOU WILL JOIN ME IN BOTH ENDEAVORS
That is all.
PS: a rare TRUE TRIVIA CHALLENGE: did you know that Darin Strauss once played in a band with Jonathan Coulton? It is so. A Free Darin Strauss book goes to the first person who can name the band in the comments.