Mordent and irreverent, Bob Smith's sly, witty debut novel tells what happens when love gets in the way of art and sex threatens to derail love. Having recently moved to Los Angeles, a city that breathes in a "smoggy cloud of dashed hopes," aspiring twenty-something novelist Nelson Kunker is working as a writer's assistant for a comedy TV show called Aftertaste.
Disillusioned and discouraged, Nelson feels as though he's been living in a glass bubble, a temporary world where these sorts of jobs are assumed to be interim employment while everyone waits for their next big break. Nelson's friends believe he's been working on a new book for the past year.
In fact, he hasn't written a word for months - lately it's been "all talk and no writing."
Nelson's love life is also in the doldrums - that is, until he meets and forms a sudden crush on Roy Briggs, a commercial salmon fisherman visiting from Alaska. Almost at once Roy fascinates Nelson with his "small dark mole on his left cheek and a bleach spot on his shirt."
This curiosity for Roy starts to drive Nelson with a force almost as powerful as sexual attraction.
While Nelson is charmed by Roy's earnestness and impressed that he manages to pull off acting silly with a beguiling conviction, Roy is also excited to meet Nelson, probably because he thinks that Nelson's interest in Alaska demonstrates a willingness to consider moving there. Even so, the chances of becoming boyfriends are almost non-existent; after all, what would Nelson actually do in Alaska?
Meanwhile, the hunky young star Dylan Fabizak turns up as a special guest star on
Aftertaste. A well-known substance abuser who has just been released from jail for good behavior, Dylan is one of the "bad boys" of Hollywood. He's also talented and has a big future ahead of him, and his "twenty pounds of hairy muscle with a barbed-wire tattoo around his bicep," does an awful lot to impair Nelson's judgment.
When Nelson and Roy get stoned in Dylan's trailer, the ensuing bond sets off a chain reaction of events that leads to an incident at the La Brea tar pits, which in turn leads to Alaskan fishing trip for both Nelson and Dylan.
Eventually Roy invites the reluctant Nelson and the strangely enthusiastic Dylan to fly out to the isolated salmon fishing community of Coffee Point, where visitors are rare and tourists almost nonexistent.
Here Nelson must finally confront the seductive Dylan, who turns on his "crank" as he weaves a sexual proposition beneath his slick, sardonic, and somewhat glib exterior.
Moving effortlessly between urban Los Angeles and the Alaskan wilderness, Smith laces his novel with broad humor, in the process encapsulating the absurdities of modern gay life. Will Nelson be able to choose between Los Angeles and Alaska and between Roy and Dylan? Will both Nelson and Roy ultimately be able to deal with Dylan's seemingly unassailable sex addiction?
Smith certainly adds the fun to the proceedings by sprinkling his novel with an odd assortment of kindly secondary characters. There's Alex, a handsome performance artist who specializes in traditional Yup'ik
storytelling, and the passionate Don and Lloyd – Don's a "champagne fiend," and Lloyd is perhaps "the biggest queen in the biggest state." There's also Roy's eccentric mother, Dee, who likes to read Barbara Pym novels while giving Nelson thoughtful advice on how to handle her son.
Sophisticated, urbane, and exceptionally entertaining, Selfish and Perverse is ultimately a novel about the sacrifices artists must make for their art. Nelson represents the "fragile" artist, and part of his journey is that he must learn to navigate the large, complex jigsaw puzzle of his life where, much to his chagrin, he suddenly finds himself giving precedence to "the harder-to-figure out" Dylan, rather than the "easier-to-understand" Roy.