Talent must be a fanatical mistress. She’s beautiful; when you’re with her, people watch you, they notice. But she bangs on your door at odd hours, and she disappears for long stretches, and she has no patience for the rest of your existence: your wife, your children, your friends. She is the most thrilling evening of your week, but some day she will leave you for good. One night, after she’s been gone for years, you will see her on the arm of a younger man, and she will pretend not to recognize you.
Ushakovo – The Courtyard Hound, the fictional book David Benioff’s Kolya (Nikolai Alexandrovich Vlasov) is writing in City of Thieves
I rarely experience professional jealousy. I might read a Joe Hill story that's so genius I wish I'd thought of it first, or a lush David Mitchell novel that makes me realize I'll rise to the top level of my ability and still be looking up at him, but the reading experience doesn't plunge me into despair. It energizes me, feeds me, shows me ways I can explore my own work.
Then, there's David Benioff.
City of Thieves is so, so good. I pulled the above quote because it's a delicious metaphor, a tribute to the language and a joy to read. It gives you an idea of his talent, but it can't tell you how good the book is. It's so good that you have to wolf it down in huge gulps. It's so good that any fiction about World War II puts me off and it's still one of my favorites. It's so good that a passage like the one above doesn't even make it into the "real" book (okay, you could argue that it's Benioff's way of getting around one of writing's basic tenets: Slay Your Darlings. It's great but it has no place in the actual narrative, so he throws in this book-within-a-book to give it a home. Did you make that argument? Well, congratulations; you hate fun).
But City of Thieves didn't make me jealous. This did:
That's the author photo on the dustjacket of Benioff's first novel, The 25th Hour. Like many, I read City of Thieves first. The 25th Hour isn't quite as good, but it's got style and story to spare (and shouldn't a writer improve as s/he goes along?). It's from the Elmore Leonard School, where character drives everything, and dialog reveals all. It's literate fiction pumped up for the thriller genre, which makes it a unique experience. He delves into these men's heads-
You know what? Just read it.
Halfway through, I was enjoying the book so much I had that moment of wondering what the dude who wrote it looks like. Once more, it was this guy:
|Hey, ladies. I call this one "smoldering."|
Suddenly, The 25th Hour's descriptions of the uber-gorgeous Monty didn't seem so far-fetched.
Ed Norton plays him in the movie, which makes no sense. I was picturing Ian Somerhalder while I read, which brings us to my gripe; David Benioff is too good-looking to be so talented. He's rich, too. Bottom line? Fuck that guy.
You might argue that no author looks as good in person as they do on a dustjacket. Sometimes you're right. Many times, in fact. Authors are human, like the rest of us. Some of us are photogenic, some of us aren't. Those of us who aren't photogenic don't have the luck to always be caught at a good angle in the right light.
Take Benioff. That author photo is way old. In fact, he grew up and eventually became the hideousness that is this:
|It's sad that I'm so beautiful. Wah.|
Poor Benioff, trapped in the ivory tower of his gorgeousness, dismissed as a cinematic author turned screenwriter by literary snobs. He's probably forlorn because with that puss, he'll never be taken seriously enough to win a Booker Prize or a Pulitzer. I'll bet he cries himself to sleep every night while he's banging Amanda Peet on top of a pile of cash.
Seriously, fuck that guy.
And when's his next book out?