Narrator, Adam Langer, (same name as the author) used to be a journalist and book editor who wrote feature articles about writers, but since his magazine folded several years ago, he’s been a stay-at-home dad of 2 girls and the only books he reads now are children’s literature or YA.
Connor Joyce used to be the “it” writer when he first published his crime novel, Devil Shotgun, about a good guy who was compromised to commit a crime in order to survive. When his book first came out, it was an instant hit because of the fresh perspective he gave on police investigation and forensic. He provided what other crime novelists at the time didn’t, which was real details on the process of police investigation. Devil Shotgun, with protagonist Cole Padgett, was made into a movie, and shortly after, more books in the series were released. That was also several years ago. Now, Connor Joyce, with the latest installment in the Cole Padgett series, barely sold a few hundred copies and held readings where only a handful of people showed up.
Adam met Connor when he was still profiling authors for his magazine. He had stayed with Connor and his wife in their home in the Poconos and wrote a great piece about him as an earnest, humble, author and all around nice guy. After Adam had published his own fictional novel about trying to find his father, Connor graciously writes a blurb about it, calling it “revelatory” and though they promised to stay in touch, life happened, Adam moved to another state, and they lost touch completely.
Now, seven years later, Adam meets Connor again at a reading of his latest Cole Padgett novel at a soon-to-close Borders in Adam’s neighborhood. They talk about old times and the present, and Adam is a bit amazed at how friendly Connor was towards him, a feeling that he didn’t necessarily share.
Adam thought that after that awkward meeting at the reading where 8 people showed up, he wouldn’t hear from Connor again, so he was surprised when Connor calls him up again the next night wanting to meet to tell him, what will turn out to be, quite an amazing and unbelievable story.
Connor tells Adam that shortly after their meeting at Borders, Connor meets a strange elderly man who introduces himself as Dex, and claims to be a big fan of his writing. Dex offers Conner $2.5 million to write him an original crime novel with certain conditions, such as there must only be one copy of the manuscript, which must either be written in longhand or typed using a manual typewriter; it must be an original work and must never be published; and he must not tell anybody about the project. Dex was to pay him in installment, 1 quarter of the amount upon signing the contract, another quarter upon submission of the manuscript, and the remaining amount when Dex accepts the story as satisfactory.
Dex assures Connor that he deal is real and that he was only one of the several authors who had been commissioned to write novels for him, authors like Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, J.D. Salinger, etc, all of whom had accepted the offer and signed the contract.
Dubious at the offer, Connor shares his tale with Adam, who, in turn, wonders exactly why Connor is trusting him with the secret. Adam, who has his own life to worry about is annoyed that Connor would presume that they had a close relationship and involve him in what could turn out to be a dangerous deal.
In the course of the year, Connor would periodically call up Adam to meet him in secluded places to talk about the novel he was writing for Dex. Connor admits that at first, he struggled to come up with fresh ideas for a new novel, but inspiration suddenly hit after he was let go by his long-time publisher. With this new motivation, he quickly finishes his novel and submits it to Dex, who, in turn, fulfills his end of the deal…but in ways Connor had never expected, or wanted.
Because of the unexpected turn of events, Connor was forced to violate his contract with Dex, and is now scared that he had put himself and his family at risk. Adam’s role, he was told, was to tell Connor’s strange but remarkable story to the world in in the event that something happened to him, in order to prove his innocence.
Throughout the novel, Adam questions Connor’s motives for sharing his incredible tale with him. He wonders at Connor’s familiarity with him even though they had only worked together briefly years ago. In the end, however, Connor reveals the reason behind his strange affinity with Adam and why he asked him to write and publish his unbelievable story.
Though The Salinger Contract is mainly Adam’s retelling of Connors remarkable story, it also touches on aspects of Adam’s life and personality – his life as a stay-at-home dad with a wife who was struggling to get tenure at a university; dealing with his long-time angst about not knowing who his real father is, and his poor relationship with his mother; and recently, serious financial issues. The novel also describes the ups and downs of the publishing world and the problems and issues that authors and editors are often faced with.
The Salinger Contract starts out a bit slow, with the introduction of Connor’s tale. As Connor’s story unfolds, readers are led to question the final outcome of Connor’s deal with Dex, and most importantly, Adam’s role in the whole thing. The answer to the latter is a bit surprising, but, for me, also a bit corny and unbelievable.
For me, the real mystery behind this novel is the true identity of Adam Langer, the author, and if he has anything in common with Adam Langer, the fictional character.
The Salinger Contract (2013) – Adam Langer
Open Road Media; 265 pages
Personal rating: 2.5/5