Serious Fun

Before the Fall

John McNally's fourth novel lampoons America's literary life, such as it is.

Book Cover Chicago-born writer John McNally (America’s Report Card, The Book of Ralph, The Ghosts of Chicago), who teaches at Wake Forest University and thankfully has not gone native by embellishing his name, southern-style—as in John Bob or Jack Ed or some such—has published his fourth novel, After the Workshop.

This is of course good news for the growing legions of fans that have coalesced around McNally’s exuberant sense of humor. Unfortunately (for me, not for you), the terrain for his newest work is not one I am especially interested in as it concerns the life and shenanigans of a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and the fact that 12 years after school, with one and only one published short story (though in the New Yorker and subsequently Best American Short Stories), said writer, Jack Hercules Sheahan, has settled uneasily into a career as a literary escort in Iowa City. You can guess, given the plethora of aberrant personalities in the slim slice of humanity devoted to writing (of which Jack is one), that this opens the window and doors to much mayhem and foxfire. To his credit, McNally does bring fresh grist to this well-used mill.

Subject matter aside, John McNally is a pretty fair writer:
I slipped next door to Mickey’s, one of Iowa City’s many overpriced restaurants, and slid into a booth near the back. After ordering my food I slumped down and spaced out. Back when I still believed I was a writer I spent all my time watching people. I used to bring a notebook with me, jotting down random details, like “crushed fedora,” “gimpy leg,” or “forgotten dab of mustard on her chin.” These days, I merely stared ahead, into space, until my focus blurred.
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