Perfiction

By Dan Bergstein

Life can be difficult, according to the new novel Beach Wave: The Wizards of Keys by first-time novelist/computer program Heather T. T. Brightbee. The Brightbee Fictioneer program was created by [REDACTED] Publishing in order to bypass the sluggish and costly steps of hiring writers to create books. Using a complex algorithm which closely studies today’s best-seller trends, the Brightbee has constructed what [REDACTED] is calling “the perfect novel.”

The book tells the story of Persephone Solitary, the new girl at a wealthy prep school. She is dealing with the death of her father, the death of her secretive Uncle who owned an underground mansion and launderette, and the death of her best friend, who now talks to her via a divine telephone that only Persephone can answer.

The quiet and intelligent Persephone (“Sephy”) is quickly seduced by the dark and handsome Noah Ravenlion, another new student. Together – andwith the help of three other new students, one of whom is (spoiler alert!) a Freemason, plus an English teacher who can travel backward in time but only about three seconds — Sephy and Noah race to find the secret of the thirteen keys.

The story clunks along awkwardly at first, but things pick up in the second chapter, when Sephy inherits her grandmother’s attic. What follows is a scene dripping with tension, mystery, sex, spiders, and regret. It’s difficult to review the novel without giving away certain plot points, but at the risk of being coy, I will say this much: the roguish werewolf vs. sexy were-lobster battle left nothing to be desired. Who wins the fight? Answer: The reader.

Some may object to Noah’s subsequent chapter-length self-help monologue in which he describes how to live a fulfilled life without GPS. But the speech’s impact is brilliantly heightened by that fact that Noah delivers it while he and a completely nude Sephy are trapped in a mannequin/puppet factory that, ten years ago to the day, was involved in a suspicious fire related to a local Kingsford charcoal cult.

In any case, “author” Brightbee knows what her readers want, and her readers want dragons, psychic children who were right all along, and a sassy elderly woman who offers harsh advice with a shovelful of sugar. This last would be Mrs. Happley, the raunchy, tell-it-like-it-is, 76-year-old Sunday school teacher who follows Sephy and the gang around saying her charming catchphrase, “Me-oh-my! Sweet potato pie!”

The dragons may seem shoehorned into the story, as they appear only during one car chase when Sephy and Noah race to the museum to locate the Sixteen Phantoms of Rembrandt, but there are hints that the dragons will play a larger rule in future books, as will the mermaids, Billy Todd (the orphan without a home who possesses prodigious piano skills), and the monstrous Man Frog who wants only to be accepted. Still, there are enough dragons, mer-people, talented orphans, and frog folk to keep even the most diehard genre enthusiast satisfied.

But this novel boasts more than just sex, secrets, non-threateningly attractive monsters, self-help, and short words. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by Chapter 16, which jettisons traditional prose for the sake of a challenging but not too difficult Sudoku puzzle. (Hint: Find the 6′s first.) And toward the end of the novel, there is a seamlessly integrated three-page interview with the cast of Mad Men.

If I have one real complaint about this book, it’s that the cover is TOO good. True, the evocative image of a child’s hand offering a broken yo-yo to the ocean may be — just may be — as powerful an image as ever created. But no ocean ever looked as ocean-y as this one. Still, the recipe section in the back is a godsend, and the complementary pedometer can change a life one step at a time.

Has the Brightbee program succeeded in generating the perfect bestseller? According to the blurbs on the back of the book from such literary heavyweights as Jonathan Franzen and “Jane Austin,” the answer is yes.

Dan Bergstein now leads in most polls.