It takes real talent to concoct a plot about our celebrity-obsessed culture that’s as outrageous as the stories we can consume every day with the click of a mouse or remote control. Following on his impressive fiction debut, the somber What Happened to Sophie Wilder, Christopher Beha has pivoted away from that novel's dark tone to create a wicked satire that’s every bit the equal of its predecessor in tackling serious moral issues.
It’s fairly obvious that private high school drama teacher and failed actor Eddie Hartley’s decision to sell the sex tape he made years earlier with his ex-girlfriend, Martha Martin, the star of a popular television medical drama, will turn out badly. That’s so despite his noble motive: to raise $10,000 to finance his wife Susan’s final attempt to conceive through in vitro fertilization. Eddie’s imprudent decision sets in motion a wild series of events when Susan becomes the star of a reality show and he recognizes, as it quickly becomes a hit, that his life has been irretrievably changed.
In his depiction of the “through the looking glass” world of reality television, Beha clearly has done his homework, exposing, with style and wit, the techniques these shows employ to create an impression of verisimilitude for what’s really a carefully crafted story arc. Eddie watches with rising dismay as Susan becomes an object of mass sympathy, while he’s cast in the role of a home-wrecking villain, even as he plots an ingenious strategy to win her back. Beha wisely doesn’t confine himself to the machinations of the reality show plot, portraying alongside it Eddie’s sobering discovery that the gap between his early dreams of fame and success and the reality of adulthood can only be bridged in a way he never could have imagined.
Our obsession with the lives of celebrities and our absorption in reality shows isn't likely to abate any time soon. Whether that pleases you or not, if you surrender for a few hours to the spell of Christopher Beha’s well-crafted novel, it's certain you’ll never view these phenomena with the same eyes again.