Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Northern exposure


Comic gets 'Selfish & Perverse' in Alaska

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Selfish and Perverse, a novel by Bob Smith, Carroll & Graf, $26

Bob Smith is funny. You probably know that, if you follow gay entertainment. Smith has been doing stand-up for several years. He's also the author of two nonfiction books filled with his witty insight.

Selfish and Perverse is Smith's first novel, yet it's written with skill and flair honed by his years as a comedy writer and performer. Don't be fooled by the title, which is as catchy a net as those used by the talented salmon fishers in the novel's wilderness (it's from a quote by Beethoven about artists). There isn't much kinky stuff going on, unless you consider making out while stoned with a closeted tattooed film star who's fresh out of jail to be perverse. Or perhaps your idea of a hot time is tongue-dancing with a husky anthropologist after you get stuck in the La Brea tar pits.

Although our hero, downwardly-spiraling Los Angeles TV comedy writer Nelson Kunkel, seems to get himself into more than his share of awkward and tarry situations before finally resolving to visit Alaska for the summer, what could be a simple romance story between Nelson and Roy becomes more complicated through some good storytelling.

Actor Dylan Fabizak, fresh out of prison after being arrested for drug offenses while caught naked on TV tripped out of his head, decides to make his post-rehab debut as the guest star on the late-night comedy show Aftertaste (think Mad TV ), a show where Nelson struggles to "script-coordinate" funny lines to ego-mad actors.

Fortunately, one of them has a hunky cousin, Roy Briggs, visiting, and with stars in their eyes soon after they meet, Nelson and Roy agree to go on a date. Their mutual interest in anthropology leads to a tour of the tar pits, leading Nelson to become a national TV news laughing-stock, which makes escaping to the Great White North more palatable, particularly after he not only gets caught necking in an elevator with Roy, but also getting stoned in star Dylan's trailer before the show's taping, and subsequently fired. On the upside, the flirtatious star hints about visiting Roy in Anchorage.

Once he's decided LA isn't really doing anything for him, Nelson meets a lot more colorful characters in Alaska, and has his skill set in outdoorsmanship tested. With horndog Dylan tagging along to study Roy for his big comeback role as a salmon fisherman, Nelson becomes caught in the sexual and emotional tension between his working-class hunk of a boyfriend, whose family and friends cautiously welcome him, and the egocentric actor who gradually tempts Nelson with more than a power lunch.

Don't you just hate when that happens?

Of course, it probably hasn't, and never will, but Smith has the swift, casual style that moves some slightly implausible plot-points forward with only intentional clunks and crashes.

Despite the author's claims that his stand-up work is different from his fiction-writing, there is a bounty of hilarious, funny, and wry one-line insights that our narrator shares; so many, in fact, that it's easy to gradually take them for granted. Toward the finale, things do get more serious, and not so funny, but certainly touching and poignant.

If you've ever had fantasies of moving to the country with your flannel-clad dream man, being romanced by a famous Hollywood stud, or doing both at the same time, Smith's novel will either dispel those dreams (with its array of mishaps and misunderstandings), or make you crave them all the more.

Bob Smith reads from Selfish and Perverse, Thurs., Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m., at Books Inc., 2275 Market St. 864-6777.

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