Men in Black

Overview

"Darkly comic...satirical... lyrical...remarkable." --The New Yorker

"Once every few years a novel will fill me with an almost magical joy...Everything in Spencer's latest book--his slightly surreal plot, stunningly drawn protagonist, and brilliant use of language--produces in me that feeling of deep personal gratification. Men in Black is narrated, for the most part, by Sam Holland, a literary novelist with a sideline of writing quickie, pseudonymous books ("An Intelligent ...

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Men in Black

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Overview

"Darkly comic...satirical... lyrical...remarkable." --The New Yorker

"Once every few years a novel will fill me with an almost magical joy...Everything in Spencer's latest book--his slightly surreal plot, stunningly drawn protagonist, and brilliant use of language--produces in me that feeling of deep personal gratification. Men in Black is narrated, for the most part, by Sam Holland, a literary novelist with a sideline of writing quickie, pseudonymous books ("An Intelligent Woman's Guide to Pro Football," "Traveling With Your Pet") to pay the bills. When Holland writes "Visitors from Above" no one suspects that this is largely made-up primer on UFOs will become an enormous bestseller. At bottom, Men in Black is the story of one man trying to tell the truth, but it is also the story of a marriage, an angry kid, media hype, and a country whose identity has become hopelessly fractured...Profound ideas are interwoven with a story that is not only thoroughly engrossing, but very funny as well." --Los Angeles Times Book Review

To pay the bills, Sam Holland wrote "Visitors from Above"--a quickie book on UFOs seasoned with sensationalism. He never expected it to become a smash bestseller, and now that his teenage son has run away, his marriage is deteriorating, and his publisher is planning a publicity tour, Sam is beginning to wish he could return to the restless obscurity he once enjoyed.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Family politics, marital discord, personal integrity, extraterrestrials, the publishing game and the vagaries of the American public find wise and witty treatment in this perceptive, highly readable novel from the author of Endless Love and Waking the Dead. Novelist Sam Holland has moved with his wife and two children to tiny Leyden, N.J., because his writing-despite favorable notices-can no longer pay the rent in Manhattan. To make ends meet, Sam has taken to penning pseudonymous volumes of popular nonfiction-"An Intelligent Woman's Guide to Pro Football," "Crystal Death" (about the hazards of table salt) and, most recently, "Visitors from Above," a UFO primer. Now, as his family fabric is seriously fraying (he's at constant battle with his wife, and his adolescent son runs away from home and into serious trouble), and as he is just beginning to realize how he has failed them and others, his UFO book is about to make him rich. Wrenching ironies abound, along with some keen insights into the subtleties of husband-wife and parent-child relationships. There are some awkward shifts between first- and third-person narration, but Spencer's prose is engaging, his characters are etched with tender intensity and the story proves compelling and hard to forget. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Sam Holland's life is mired in failure. Constantly aware of his inadequacies as a son, husband, father, and writer, he is made even more uneasy by a quirky success. His book on UFOs, written for quick money, suddenly propels him onto the best-sellers lists. Ironically, the status he has longed for is now an embarrassment. As he is pulled into a semicelebrity world of book tours and publicity, his family comes apart. His runaway son winds up cavorting with petty criminals, his wife suffers from her own estrangements, and his former lover is pregnant. There is a good story buried beneath the jumbled emotions here, but it never quite surfaces. Spencer's previous novels include Secret Anniversaries (LJ 5/1/90). For larger collections.-Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., N.C.
Lisa Orzepowski
The new novel by the well-known author of Endless Love tells a curiously familiar tale about a once-not-so-famous author whose latest literary endeavor changes his life. Sam Holland is a writer, a family man, and someone on the verge of a total, self-afflicted catastrophe. Sam is proud to write reputable fiction. He even moves from his beloved New York City to the country to support his family on a meager, on-and-off-again salary. Much to his chagrin, Sam drums up a trashy, sf novel--using a pseudonym to save face--that surprisingly skyrockets to success. Sam is embarrassed. To add to the pain, his son Michael is missing after a therapy session, affairs occur and resurrect, and a promotional tour leads Sam, or rather "John Retcliffe," to a quasi-nervous breakdown. Sam can no longer stomach the discussions of men in black, UFO sightings, and people around the country extrapolating theories from his fake book, "Visitors from Above". As a result, he takes an unauthorized hiatus from the tour to get back in touch with family matters. The real-life characters and writing style in this entertaining new book will surely appeal to many readers, whether they are newcomers or old fans of Spencer's.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780517179628
  • Publisher: Random House Value Publishing, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/20/1997

Meet the Author

Scott Spencer
Scott Spencer once defined a novelist as "someone who sits around in his underwear all day, trying not to smoke." For Spencer, not smoking has been a productive occupation, with his novels Endless Love and A Ship Made of Paper both selected as contenders for the National Book Award.

Biography

Scott Spencer once defined a novelist as "someone who sits around in his underwear all day, trying not to smoke." For Spencer, not smoking has been a productive occupation. His best-known novel, Endless Love, sold more than 2 million copies and has been translated into 20 languages. The story of teenage love and obsession has drawn high praise from other novelists, including Anne Tyler and Michael Ondaatje. Joyce Carol Oates wrote, "No description of Endless Love can do justice to the rich, startling and always intelligent tenor of [Spencer's] prose."

Less fortunately for Spencer, Endless Love also attracted the attention of Franco Zeffirelli, who directed a disastrous Brooke Shields vehicle based on the book (the 1981 movie periodically turns up on critics' lists of the worst movies of all time). But while Endless Love was, as Jonathan Lethem opined in Salon, a good book overshadowed by a bad movie, Spencer's next novel, about a political candidate haunted by the memory of his late fiancée, got an actual boost from Hollywood. After Keith Gordon filmed Waking the Dead in 1999 with Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly in the lead roles, the book was reissued, gaining thousands of new readers. As Spencer notes in an interview on his publisher's web site, "The best thing about having a movie made of your novel is that more people read the book."

Spencer published several books between the first edition of Waking the Dead and its reissue, including Men in Black, the tale of a literary novelist whose pseudonymous hackwork earns him sudden fame and fortune, and The Rich Man's Table, the fictional memoir of a Dylan-like folk singer's illegitimate son. The Los Angeles Times Book Review called Men in Black "the Cadillac of novels -- every word vibrating with a kind of shameless big-boned American grace."

With his recent novel A Ship Made of Paper, Spencer returns to his earlier themes: romantic obsession and overpowering desire. "What makes this brave, dazzling novel so impossible to put down is the urgency with which it makes you care about what happens to its characters: male and female, black and white, young and old," wrote Francine Prose. "Scott Spencer has a genius for observing dramatic everyday moments when the self crashes into the barriers of class and race and culture, together with infinite compassion for the wayward impulse that turns human beings into fanatics willing to sacrifice everything on the altar of romantic love."

Critics have credited Spencer with an ambitious prose style and a keen grasp of contemporary culture, but what distinguishes his work most is his ability to tap into the intense currents of emotion beneath the surface of domestic life. As New York magazine noted, "In a literary age marked by cool, cerebral fiction, Spencer writes from the heart."

Good To Know

In our interview, Spencer revealed his love for all types of music. "My daughter, son, and I are always making mix tapes for each other, sharing the music we love," Spencer shares. "I have no musical talent, but music is a part of nearly every day. I still love the music I grew up with -- from Elvis to Motown to Otis Redding -- but as I grow older I find more and more music to love. I have major CD storage issues."

Spencer has taught fiction writing at Columbia University and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has written for The New York Times, Esquire, The Nation, GQ, and Rolling Stone, among other publications.

The film version of Endless Love, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, was (as TV Guide put it) "a notorious disaster," but it marked the film debut of three future stars: Tom Cruise, James Spader, and Jami Gertz. The movie's theme song won Lionel Ritchie an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.

A Ship Made of Paper is the fourth novel of Spencer's that uses Leyden, New York as a backdrop.

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    1. Hometown:
      Rhinebeck, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 1, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B. A., University of Wisconsin, 1969

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