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Everything Hurts: A Novel

Everything Hurts: A Novel

5.0 2
by Bill Scheft

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Phil Camp has a problem. Not the fact that he wrote a parody of a self-help book (Where Can I Stow My Baggage?) that the world took seriously and that became an international bestseller, or that he wrote the book under a phony name, Marty Fleck, and the phony name became a self-help guru overnight. Phil cannot be Marty Fleck. He can barely be himself.


Phil Camp has a problem. Not the fact that he wrote a parody of a self-help book (Where Can I Stow My Baggage?) that the world took seriously and that became an international bestseller, or that he wrote the book under a phony name, Marty Fleck, and the phony name became a self-help guru overnight. Phil cannot be Marty Fleck. He can barely be himself.

No, Phil's problem is that he has been walking with a limp for nine months. Phil is in constant pain, yet there is nothing physically wrong with his body that would cause such agony. This problem leads him to the controversial Dr. Samuel Abrun, a real doctor who wrote a real self-help book (The Power of "Ow!") that made thousands of people pain-free.

So what happens when the self-help fraud meets the genuine item? Does he get better? Can he hobble out of his own way to help himself? Most important, can the reader make it through fifty pages without thinking, Wait a minute. Is that a twinge I feel in my lower back or just gas?

Phil embraces Abrun's unorthodox psychogenic theories passionately but manages to save some passion for Abrun's daughter, Janet, herself a doctor who has her own theories about, and remedies for, chronic pain. If all this weren't enough, Phil tries to delve further into his past with his unconventional psychotherapist, the Irish Shrink, even if it means revealing dark secrets he never remembered telling him the first two or three times. To top it all off, Phil confronts his alter ego's nemesis, right-wing radio blowhard Jim McManus, only to find out they share a common enemy -- the same family.

Like Carl Hiassen and Larry David, author Bill Scheft understands that the best humor is always excruciating. That fits the story of Everything Hurts and its lesson: Pain is the ultimate teacher. By the end, Phil Camp, the self-proclaimed "self-help fraud," turns out to be the real thing. And the real thing turns out to be flawed and confused, but hopeful. In other words, human.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Letterman writer Scheft skewers physical and emotional pain with a mercilessly comic touch and a bit of poignancy. Phil Camp is an accidental guru who wrote a farcical self-help book under the name Marty Fleck as a joke-he swears-to pay off his divorce settlement. But years have passed, and people still read Fleck's advice as if it's the real thing. Phil, meanwhile, is limping into middle age with an excruciating, undiagnosable leg pain that his own self-help guru tells him is all in his head. Even while trying to lose the limp, woo his guru's daughter, pour out his troubles in absurd therapy sessions and confront the antagonism he has with his right-wing radio talk-show host half-brother, Phil maintains his ability to quip and deliver one-liners. But more important, his journey to avoid bodily discomfort leads him to some less corporeal truths about his life-and a reassessment of Marty Fleck. Despite the book's sometimes overly involved asides and flashbacks, Phil is a wonderful protagonist, and Scheft's biting wit coexists nicely with the undercurrent of uplift. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Retired sportswriter Phil Camp feels bad about his back. And his love life. And his family. And his childhood torments. Surprisingly, Scheft (Time Won't Let Me, 2005, etc.), a veteran writer for The Late Show With David Letterman, keeps Phil's story appealingly light. On a lark, Phil spent a few weeks writing a parody of self-help books; Where Do I Stow My Baggage? became a runaway bestseller thanks to the many readers who didn't think it was a joke. The book and the syndicated column it inspired, written under the nom de plume Marty Fleck, have left Camp financially comfortable but in pain everywhere else. His back aches, his ex-wife sabotaged his last serious relationship and his half-brother Jim McManus is a Limbaugh-like radio host who routinely takes on-air swipes at the insipidness of Fleck's insights. Shortly before Phil has back surgery, a stranger tips him off to The Power of "Ow!" by Dr. Samuel Abrun, who argues that physical pain is actually a mental problem. From there ensues a comedy of errors involving Abrun's bright, emotionally wounded daughter; warring misunderstandings between Phil and Jim; and a host of memories about childhood neglect and adult infidelity. To keep that last plot thread from becoming too mordant, Scheft applies a Woody Allen-ish tone. Phil is genial, self-deprecating and quick with an ironic wisecrack, but ready to lay himself emotionally bare as well. Like Allen, Scheft seems to know his way around the psychiatrist's couch; he has a keen sense of the emotional pathways of depression and of how therapy awkwardly leads people into and out of their worst experiences. A few beams are creaky: A subplot involving Derek Jeter doesn't quite work, and therelationship between Abrun and his daughter lacks the main story's depth. But Scheft's rendering of family dysfunction is consistently sturdy. Much like Phil's fictitious self-help book: meant as a gag, but with enough smarts to be taken seriously. Agent: Mary Evans/Mary Evans

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Simon & Schuster
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Meet the Author

Bill Scheft, a 15-time Emmy-nominated writer for David Letterman, is the author of two previous novels, The Ringer and Time Won't Let Me, which was a finalist for the 2006 Thurber Prize for American Humor. He has also written for the The New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire and Sports Illustrated. He lives in New York City with his wife, comedian Adrianne Tolsch.

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Everything Hurts 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Phil Camp never intended to become a self-help guru. All he wanted to do was come up with the money to pay off his ex-wife. But when Where Can I Stow My Baggage? becomes an instant hit, his career suddenly takes off. Phil doesn't want anyone to know he's the genius behind the pseudonym of Marty Fleck. Everything is going fine, as the book turns into a regular column, Baggage Handling. But then one day Phil develops a strange and unexplained limp, and he's forced to turn to a real self-help guru for answers. His journey through the layers of pain lead him to the Irish Shrink, who helps him unravel his past and try to make sense of it all. Phil uncovers several disturbing and shameful events, and an undercurrent of rage runs through it all-the rage that's causing him so much pain. Everything Hurts is the humorous account of how Phil Camp comes to terms with his past and his pain. But there's more to this story than just laughs, as he delves into the healing of age-old family rifts. After reading this book, you'll never look at your past, your family, or your pain the same way. Reviewer: Alice Berger, Bergers Book Reviews
Jim_Westfall More than 1 year ago
In the movie "Tropic Thunder," there's a great line spoken by Robert Downey Jr., who's playing an Australian actor who has been cast as an African-American character in black face: "I'm a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude!" I'll never be able to hear that line again without thinking about the origins of Marty Fleck, the metafictional, unintentional, self-help guru in Bill Scheft's wonderfully funny third novel, "Everything Hurts." If Phil Camp, the main character, who suddenly develops a mysterious, painful limp in Scheft's novel, represents the book's author (who, himself, suffered from an actual case of "phantom limp" while writing this book), then Fleck, who is created by the fictional Camp, represents something even more detached. When Camp writes under the pseudonym of Marty Fleck, he is allowed to operate unfettered, tapping directly into his subconscious mind to bypass the usual filters that are in place to protect not only himself (although especially himself), but also those around him. Marty Fleck is Phil Camp's id made manifest...Phil Camp is convinced that his successful, imaginary creation, Marty Fleck, is simply the product of a happy accident and is nothing more than a big joke. However, in the end, the joke is on Camp (and us) as we come to realize that Marty Fleck has been responsible for a great deal of unintentional healing...The plot contains all of the elements of a Greek tragedy, but Scheft manages to keep the reader laughing through all of the pain. "Everything Hurts" is not just a reference to the mysterious, physical pains experienced by Phil Camp. It means what it says: EVERYTHING hurts. Childhood memories hurt, marriage hurts, divorce hurts, work hurts, loss of work hurts, anti-Semitism hurts, family relationships hurt, aging hurts, living hurts, dying hurts, everything hurts...Scheft is fully aware that the territory of dysfunctional family relationships that he is exploring in this novel is nothing new to us. In fact, with a wink, he knowingly inserts a nice little joke about "The Prince of Tides" early in the narrative. However, what prevents this novel from deteriorating into "The Prince of Tylenol" is the fact that Bill Scheft understands a fundamental principle of writing comedy: somebody gets hurt. Every great joke has at least one victim, and when everything hurts, well, that just means that everything is fair game for Scheft's brilliant style of comic skewering. Add an abundance of wonderful examples of comic wordplay to the mix, consisting of such verbal gems as "Mr. Continuing Ed," and "'White Fang' shui," and you have a novel that takes some of the most depressing material that you can possibly imagine and makes it laugh out loud funny on virtually every page. ...one cannibal turns to the other and asks, "Does this taste funny to you?" Yeah, this book tastes INCREDIBLY funny! In this novel, Bill Scheft bites down deep into the horror and sadness that makes us human and spits out a pair of clown shoes. Scheft is a comic genius who understands profound sadness, and when it comes to extracting laughs from human suffering, writing comic novels born of intense pain, I hope that I'm bestowing the greatest accolades possible upon Mr. Scheft when I close with a joke of my own: I haven't laughed so hard since Joseph Heller died! (What, too soon?) A must read!