Todd Milstead is a jerk. His friends barely tolerate him (and only because he supplies them with free food and booze), he treats women terribly, and his ego far eclipses his nonexistent writing talent. Perhaps the only real skill he has is a perfect memory: at will, he is able to accurately quote entire passages from books, if not entire books.
During yet another obnoxious dinner party, Todd begins to quote from a bestseller called All My Colors and is shocked when no one else can remember it. At first he shrugs it off, assuming the others are just far less well-read, but when he tries to find a copy of the book and prove everyone wrong, he quickly realizes that he’s the only one who remembers it.
Facing a divorce and the realization that his life is about to take a turn for the worse, Todd decides to take advantage of his perfect recall to recreate the book that doesn’t exist. He knows it was a bestseller before, so why not “write” All My Colors himself and make some cash off of it?
The new novel from Veep and The Thick of It screenwriter David Quantick—which shares the name of the fictional, in-narrative tome—chronicles the fast-paced, darkly humorous tale of Todd Milstead’s sudden rise to fame and his equally sudden demise. Quantick shatters the notion that a character must be likable for a story to succeed: throughout, Todd remains an insufferable, irredeemable jerk. Even when he briefly seems to reform for the better, the reader can sense that there hasn’t been a real change in him, and, soon enough, he returns to his inconsiderate ways.
It is the strength of Todd’s awfulness that keeps us reading: he may be a caricature of every “Guy in Your MFA,” but that only makes us eager to see him get smacked down for his arrogance. Although we’re lured by tantalizing hints that he might get away with his scheme, we ultimately cheer for him not to. The journey toward Todd’s inevitable comeuppance is a real ride, and the reveals along the way more than satisfy the mystery that opens the novel—why is Todd the only one who can remember this particular book? —even if things might come together with an ease (and a villainous monologue) that belies the author’s roots in television.
Under a surface layer of pulp horror, All My Colors challenges ideas of ownership that feel relevant to our current creative climate. As publishing struggles to embrace diversity and welcome stories that are inclusive of underrepresented parts of our community, one question often arises: whose stories do we prioritize? Written by whom? How do stories about a multiracial cast of characters written by white authors, or stories about trans characters written by cis authors, fit into the framework of diversity that we now want to promote?
Neither I nor Quantick are here to give universal, straightforward answers to these questions. All My Colors asks us to soul-search—to ask ourselves why we want to tell certain stories and what drives us to create narratives; to question our own intentions and motivations, and the dissonance between our public and private selves. Rather than being a treatise on inspiration, Quantick’s story is about the consequences of theft and the entitlement we display when we treat a person’s real life narrative as an object to be possessed and sold.
Quantick spins the tired trope of a book about someone writing a book into a darkly humorous story about ego and comeuppance, one that, for a moment, lets the reader believe in a just world where jerks get their due punishment. The dark humor in All My Colors will leave you grinning, your teeth shining and so very, very sharp.