Writing a novel about a novelist is a potentially risky undertaking; it can suggest a certain hubris or lack of imagination. Can’t a fiction writer imagine anyone else as a protagonist besides someone of their own vocation? But, in the case of Andrew Lipstein’s Last Resort, the gamble pays off. Lipstein has crafted a taut page-turner that is a fine example of a rare beast, a thriller about plagiarism.
Lipstein is a talented writer of exacting prose, and though there are surely elements of his own life and personality brought into the book, it’s clearly a work of imagination. Last Resort tells the story of Caleb, an aspiring novelist who is in a funk. He has taken years of his life to write a novel, only to have it rejected by agents and publishers. He embarks on a cross-country road trip, which brings him crashing for a night with Avi, an old acquaintance from college. Avi tells him about a recent experience on a Greek island, so dramatic and sexy and heartbreaking it could be a movie … or a novel.
Caleb makes a series of foolhardy choices as the book progresses. Though he becomes increasingly unsympathetic, anyone who has ever dreamed of having a career that is also a passion, who has ever felt the compulsion to share their creations with the world, who has ever fallen prey to daydreams of Pulitzers or Oscars or Super Bowl rings will understand his desperation. It’s almost satirical, and certainly funny, but Lipstein balances the acerbic commentary with rich portrayals of pain and betrayal. This dynamic provides a smoldering base from which Lipstein asks perpetually pressing questions of authenticity, ownership of story, and the cost of ambition.
Lipstein’s precise observations of Millennial life give the book a heart of searing reality. They are sometimes cringe-inducing, as are the slightly shady sides to most characters, which suggest that Caleb is at least a piece of his world rather than a villain. The ending is pure schadenfreude, but the journey to it is emotionally complex and thoroughly entertaining.