There’s an intimacy to Jason Mott’s fiction, retained even when the scope of his narrative widens. But even by these standards, his fourth novel is a uniquely tight, personal story that digs into deeply emotional territory. Through two interwoven storylines unfolding in a witty, often devastatingly incisive style, Hell of a Book is a journey into the heart of a very particular American experience, one that far too many don’t live to tell.
Hell of a Book is named for the novel written by Mott’s protagonist, an unnamed author embarking on a booze-fueled book tour across the United States, hopping from hotel room to hotel room and interview after interview. But the author is less keen to talk about his book than about the Kid, a mysterious and possibly imaginary Black child who has appeared by the author’s side and now follows him everywhere.
As the author and the Kid get to know each other, Mott intersperses their tale with that of Soot, a Black boy who endures bullying in his small town for the color of his skin, and whose childhood seems to be on a tragic and all-too-common trajectory.
You may think you see where these two stories are headed, where they will converge and knit together, and what they will have to say at the end, but you don’t. And even if you could, Mott’s bittersweet, remarkably nimble novel would still keep you turning the pages.
Hell of a Book is a masterwork of balance, as Mott navigates the two narratives and their delicate tonal distinctions. A surrealist feast of imagination that’s brimming with very real horrors, frustrations and sorrows, it can break your heart and make you laugh out loud at the same time, often on the same page. This is an achievement of American fiction that rises to meet this particular moment with charm, wisdom and truth.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Hell of a Book author Jason Mott discusses the new confidence he’s found as a writer. “I hope that it leads to more creative exploration and new paths of storytelling in the future.”