Some novels are about a murdered man, and you must read to find out who killed him. In Fame & Madness in America, the new novel by Garrett Socol, the story begins when Brenda Bernstein admits to killing her husband. What follows is the straight-faced farce of the ensuing media frenzy.
Fame & Madness in America is a satire that explores the way fame comes quickly to anyone the media deems of interest, with or without their consent. It came to Brenda when she did not even seek it. She only wanted to defend herself and her crime, which is where the book's sincerity shines through amidst all the over-eager entertainment hoopla.
They obeyed the law, looked both ways before crossing the street, and returned their library books on time. Then, one turbulent night, with perhaps too much booze or one too many antidepressants, they acted on impulse. Emotion took over like a fever, and they committed a crime. Maybe it was in self-defense, maybe not. But for all intents and purposes, these were normal women with no criminal record, women who were pushed to the brink, and instead of jumping off the precipice they decided to turn around and fight the enemy. And in saving their own life, they took someone else's. Now they were paying for it. It dawned on me that every single one of us, every human being who feels love and lust and passion and courage, is capable of committing a heinous act, capable of losing control in the blinding, blistering heat of the moment and doing something that could change the course of his or her life forever.
Yet whereas Brenda remained focused on her trial, Byron Regal, the brother of the poisoned groom, attempted to exploit his new fame, and opportunities to do so arose easily. One such opportunity was to host a new television show:
The offer came out of the blue: a hosting gig on a new dating series in development. The producer saw me on MSNBC and thought I had what it took. The show involved pairing up the brothers and sisters of people who were savagely murdered. The idea was that these guys and gals have gone through so much pain that they deserve to be matched up with other people who've lost a sibling in a violent death.
The show was originally called 'No Slain, No Gain.' Then it was changed to 'He's Dead, She's Dead.' Then the powers that be finally decided on 'Mating After Murder.' I thought that had a winning ring to it.
The novel is told in varying points of view. Each chapter heading reveals the name of the character whose thoughts we see for the next few paragraphs or pages. At first I was frustrated that I would not be getting solely the perspective of Brenda, the husband-killer, whose voice the book began with. Socol made no attempt to reinvent the multi-pov novel structure. However, it was not long before I recognized the way this storytelling mirrored the editing of a reality television show, and it was better for it. Even I, unsuspecting, fell victim to the engaging and compulsory appeal of 'watching' to see what would come next for each self-involved and superficial character. I felt like I was duped into watching a reality TV show - whose absurdity and triviality I vehemently avoid - and I enjoyed every minute of it.