Famous Writers I Have Known by James Magnuson | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Famous Writers I Have Known

Famous Writers I Have Known

by James Magnuson

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“A triumphantly preposterous fish-out-of-water campus caper . . . hilarious.”—Washington Post
In this brilliant mix of literary satire and crime caper, Frankie Abandonato, a small-time con man on the run, finds refuge by posing as V. S. Mohle—a famously reclusive writer—and teaching in a prestigious writing program somewhere in Texas.


“A triumphantly preposterous fish-out-of-water campus caper . . . hilarious.”—Washington Post
In this brilliant mix of literary satire and crime caper, Frankie Abandonato, a small-time con man on the run, finds refuge by posing as V. S. Mohle—a famously reclusive writer—and teaching in a prestigious writing program somewhere in Texas. Streetwise and semiliterate, Frankie finds that being treated as a genius agrees with him.
The program has been funded by Rex Schoeninger, the world’s richest novelist, who is dying. Buzzards are circling, angling for the remains of Rex’s fortune, and Frankie quickly realizes that he has been presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Complicating matters is the fact that Rex is haunted by a twenty-five-year feud with the shadowy Mohle. What rankles Rex is that, while he has written fifty bestsellers and never gotten an ounce of literary respect, Mohle wrote one slender novel, disappeared into the woods, and become an icon. Determined to come to terms with his past, Rex has arranged to bring his rival to Texas, only to find himself facing off against an imposter.Famous Writers I Have Known is not just an unforgettable literary romp but also a surprisingly tender take on two men—one a scam artist frantic to be believed, the other an old lion desperate to be remembered.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the start of the latest from Magnuson (The Hounds of Winter), New York City hustler Frankie Abandonato finds himself on the lam, hiding from the mob after a con gone wrong leaves his partner dead. Hopping on the next plane out of New York’s La Guardia, Frankie is mistaken for a famous author, the reclusive, J.D. Salinger-like V.S. Mohle, who was supposed to be on the same flight, but was scared off by a celebrity hound just before boarding. After the plane touches down in Austin, Tex., a trio of Mohle’s young fans whisk Frankie away to an elite writing program where the great man is slated to teach. The latest from Magnuson (The Hounds of Winter) weaves and bobs between Frankie’s attempts to become Mohle—learning the lingo of writers, giving readings, heading workshops—and his dealings with novelist Rex Schoeninger, Mohle’s oldest rival and the writing program’s chief benefactor. Learning Rex has $20 million in the bank, Frankie concocts an elaborate scheme to steal the elderly man’s fortune. Part satire of the creative writing industry (MFAs, awards, egos), part snappy grifter tale, this novel is a fast, fun read. Magnuson’s writing is strong, though his characters’ relationships sometimes lack believability. Agent: Emily Forland, Brandt and Hochman. (Jan.)
Eugenia Williamson - Boston Globe
“It’s unlikely that anyone else has managed a more ingenious way to caricature his workplace… Most of the fun Magnuson pokes is gentle and tinged with affection for the sundry weirdos you might encounter in a writing program.”
T. C. Boyle
“The single wickedest satire I've read in years. Flat-out hilarious (and disturbing, in the most genial kind of way).”
Elinor Lipman - The Washington Post
“A triumphantly preposterous fish-out-of-water campus caper.”
T.C. Boyle
“The single wickedest satire I've read in years. Flat-out hilarious (and disturbing, in the most genial kind of way).”
Steve Harrigan
“James Magnuson's new novel is an anything-goes mash-up. It's funny, it's poignant, it's scarily on-target when it comes to writing programs and dreams of literary immortality—and, best of all, it's out of its mind.”
Colm Tóibín
“Famous Writers I Have Known is the engaging story of an ingenious con-man who enters the world of Creative Writing with a mixture of innocence, nerve and talent. James Magnuson creates a character both cunning and warmhearted. He describes the Texan landscape with a loving and painterly eye, and he re-creates the world of writers and would-be writers with wit and knowledge and dark laughter.”
Anthony Giardina
“Jim Magnuson has done something remarkable—written a page-turner about the life of a writer. In his insights into the particular Famous Writer considered here, Magnuson’s peerless eye has not missed a single telling detail. His comedy is huge but its also sly: just under the surface of this Portrait of the Almost-Artist as a Cranky Old Man lies a moving meditation on the quest for immortality that drives us all, the mad cry from Othello: "Reputation! Reputation! Reputation!"”
Margot Livesey
“In the wildly intelligent, hugely funny, and superbly plotted Famous Writers I Have Known, James Magnuson examines literary fame and writers' workshops through the sharp eyes of his hero, the irrepressible Frankie Abandonato. Readers everywhere are in for a wonderful treat.”
Kirkus Reviews
The literary racket proves fair game for a con man in Magnuson's eighth novel, a poorly designed caper. It's 1997. Frankie has spent most of the decade in the slammer. Now, the middle-aged grifter is back in his hometown, New York, reunited with Barry, his partner in crime. They have just scammed a guy, realizing too late he's the idiot son of a mob boss. Barry is killed by a goon; Frankie escapes, barely, taking the first flight out of town. He finds himself in Austin, Texas, being greeted by three adoring young women. Apparently, he's a dead ringer for V.S. Mohle, the Salinger-esque novelist the girls were expecting. They're students at the Fiction Institute, funded by Rex Schoeninger, the Michener-esque octogenarian known for his doorstop books and philanthropy. Years before, Rex beat out V.S. for a Pulitzer. Later, on The Dick Cavett Show, the two came to blows. (This is a cartoonish rehash of the celebrated 1970s faceoff between Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer.) Rex filed a lawsuit; V.S. moved to a Maine island and never wrote again. Now Rex, hoping to bury the hatchet, has invited V.S. to lead a writing workshop: easy work, big bucks, but V.S. got cold feet before his flight, which leaves Frankie in the spotlight. The con man decides to go for impersonation. The students are pussycats, and the program director is gullible. (There's some self-mockery here. Magnuson, who knew Michener, holds a similar position in Austin.) Despite some "oops!" moments, Frankie muddles through and wins over the curmudgeonly Rex by giving him a puppy. Frankie is a bit of a softie. This will disappoint readers looking for more hard-edged action, while those expecting literary scuttlebutt will find a campus scene that's altogether too mellow. Only toward the end does the action resume, with Frankie, self-described poor schlub that he is, making mistake after mistake. A novel that aims to appeal to two different readerships but is unlikely to satisfy either one.
Alan Cheuse
“Addictive…. A delightful take on writing programs and American life.”
Texas Monthly
“[A] plucky caper.”
Shelf Awareness
“A fun-filled literary romp.”
Cristina Garcia
“Wildly entertaining and insightful, Magnuson's book is an unsparing look into the fragile, orphaned hearts of writers and con men alike. Its pitch-perfect narrator, Frankie Abandonato, is a hilarious, lovable American anti-hero for the 21st century.”
Richard Ford
“A droll, understated, ultimately sweet-tempered but also keenly savvy send-up of the much-lamented (and misunderstood) creative writing industry in America.”
Jim Crace
“James Magnuson’s mischievous comedy of novelists and conmen—professional liars both—is as subtle as it is subversive, as clever as it is courageous, as witty as it is touching. Readers will love it—but writers beware!”
Peter Carey
“A gloriously far fetched tale, but alarmingly real to anyone who knows the weird world of MFA programs. Besides which, it's a shit-load of fun.”
John McMurtrie - SFGate
“Ridiculously entertaining.”
Edward Nawotka - Dallas Morning News
“Tantalizing … Magnuson nimbly keeps the wheel spinning, neither condemning the whole enterprise of creative writing programs, literary awards and the ambition that drives them, nor fully embracing them. He seems content to simply observe, reflect and entertain.”
Adam Woog - Seattle Times
“[A] gleeful look at literary affectations.”
Christopher Kelly - New York Times
“Mr. Magnuson spins his rambunctious tale with…evident glee.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

James Magnuson is the author of eight previous novels and the recipient of multiple fellowships and awards for fiction. He currently directs the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. He lives in Austin.

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