Last Resort

  • Review
By – April 25, 2022

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.

Jessie Szalay’s writ­ing has appeared in Gulf Coast, Aspara­gus, The For­ward, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Trav­el­er, and as a notable in the Best Amer­i­can Essays of 2017. She lives in Salt Lake City where she teach­es writ­ing in a prison edu­ca­tion program.

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