March 10, 2010
Originally printed by Press Media Group and appeared in the 17 February 2010 issue of The Lynchburg Ledger newspaper.
Apart from William Melvin Kelley’s 1967 black comedy dem, I have never read a book so swiftly in my born day as Totally Killer by Greg Olear (Harper, 2009). I’ll be frank—though I usually just go by Jeff, Jeffro, or Jeffrey, depending on how well you know me—you don’t need to read any further than the next line to know my true feelings regarding this novel: it is absolutely amazing. Stop reading this column right now and high tail it to Barnes & Noble or log on to Amazon.com and snag a copy.
“But I’m at work and am reading your column instead of being productive and can’t high-tail it to Barnes & Noble or log on to Amazon.com because my boss blocked it on our work server,” you say. In that case, quit your job; or at least find an RC Cola machine, pop in some C + C Music Factory, and enjoy the review until you can pick up this novel.
Twenty-three and jobless, the beautifully flawed Taylor Schmidt arrives to the Big Apple in July 1991 a transplant from the rolling hills of Warrensburg, Missouri with an undergraduate degree in English Lit and aspirations of breaking into the world of publishing. What she quickly finds instead are the shuffling, blistered feet of tenderfoot Gen-Xers like herself stretching for city blocks in the sweltering heat, all with resumes in hand, and the sexually overt up-and-downs of power zealot editorial directors.
The pickings slim and competition fierce due to an economic downturn, Taylor stumbles with high heels from one employment agency to the next until being summoned by the Quid Pro Quo employment agency. Led by the august, cocksure Asher Krug, Quid Pro Quo guarantees its adept applicants “jobs to kill for” but at what price?
Written eighteen years later from the perspective of Taylor’s fatally attracted roommate, Todd Lander, Totally Killer is, at first, Lander’s self-confessing memoir—“Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, you meet a woman who just does it for you. That was Taylor Schmidt. The chick oozed pheromones. She was sex. And not just for me. Everybody she ever met wanted to sleep with her”—turned cultural satire and murder mystery.
Behind the curtain in this cultural Wizard of Oz in the 1991st year of Anno Domini is a New Kid on the Block, and his name isn’t Jordan Knight or Donnie Wahlberg—it’s Greg Olear, and holy inflation rate of 4.25% is this a page turner, so much so I have third degree burns on the tips of my fingers and soot on the corners of the pages.
Let me pause for a moment and place this novel in its proper historical context.
Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is arrested for eating people. Heavyweight champion of the world Mike Tyson is arraigned for allegedly raping them. (Two separate events) Boyz II Men are on top of the world. Former U.S. postal worker Joseph Harris kills his ex-girlfriend, her fiancée, and two other co-workers, thus resulting in the creation of the phrase “going postal.” Thelma & Louise enter the void that is the Grand Canyon as Harvey Keitel tries in vain to stop them—a cloud of dirt, dust, and gravel choking out his raised arm plea for the two female outlaws to turn back. Rodney King is beaten by the LAPD as an onlooker captures it on film, and the first episode of Friends is still three years away.
[Gasping for that smog stymied LA air (metaphor)]
Yes, this all took place in a single year. That year: 1991. At the epicenter of this cultural epoch within Olear’s Totally Killer—the fall of Bush 41 and the peregrination into the Clintonian era of saxophones and cigars—is the battle between the Baby Boomers, seventy-six million strong and balding, and Strauss and Howe’s 13th Generation, Generation X, all dressed up in flannel with nowhere to go.
Described by Colleen Curran, author of Whores on the Hill, as “American Psycho meets [VH1’s] I Love the 1990’s,” Totally Killer is a total page-turner full of wit, humor, and masterful prose with a made for movie play-by-play that could easily be on the big screen one day starring Scarlett Johansson as Taylor Schmidt as numerous reviews have pointed out. No, I’m serious. I’ll lead the charge to Hollywood myself if I have to. What’s Scarlett Johansson’s number? Get me on the phone with her agent!
I cannot recommend this book enough, particularly for those in the 17-40 age range. If you have a friend who boasts their dislike of reading and books, purchase Olear’s novel for them and see what they say after reading it. You will witness the conversion to one of us: the bookworm. Totally Killer by Greg Olear (Harper, 2009), 272 pgs. Paperback: Fiction. Starting at $11.19 from Amazon.com and $11.96 at Barnes & Noble, or request a copy from your local bookseller.
For more information, visit www.gregolear.com. Stay tuned for next week’s column: an interview with the author, Greg Olear.