Heads You Lose

Heads You Lose: A Novel, by Lisa Lutz + David Hayward. Putnan, 978-0-399-15740-0, April 2011, $24.95, 320pp

There are two stories going on in this book, both of them funny: there’s the novel itself, written in alternating chapters by Lisa Lutz and her former boyfriend and coauthor David Hayward. Lisa approached him with the project and a suggested plan: she’d send him the first chapter with her comments, to which he’d respond in kind.  This story [rather less than fiction] is played out in those back-and-forth notes, as well as in the footnotes each appends to the other’s work. Their backstory doesn’t take very long to emerge–34 pages in, we’ve learned from Lisa about a road trip they took that… he found exhilarating, and she terrifying.  Their collaboration lurches along with accelerating hostility [a lovers-then-friends-dialectic] , each of them in their turn wrenching the plot’s direction from the other: the most extreme example of this is perhaps the miraculous resurrection of one author’s favored character–only to be killed off again in a manner spectacularly unexpected. The sarcasm between the two escalates as well–after Lisa suggests David’s word choices are unnecessarily abstruse, he responds that he’ll “turn it down a notch”–turning the page to his next chapter, I was greeted with 24-point type and the opening sentence, “Terry was cutting the pretty plants. Cut, cut, cut, went the scissors.” Howling the whole of this mercifully brief chapter, I blessed Hayward– any longer and I’d have passed out from an inability to breathe. The two co-authors do finally begin to work together to finish the novel,  ending up friends again.

The purely fictional part of the book begins with a headless body in the front yard of the protagonists, siblings Paul and Lacy Hansen; they grow marijuana–he because he likes to, she because she’s between practically everything in her life and just allows herself to drift. The body count rises, mysteries abound, are solved only to rebound, characters whom you’d think would seem patchwork, given the collaboration, are actually charming and organic. This is a funny, funny book–and it’s hard to decide which is the more entertaining–the co-written novel that emerges a chapter at a time, or the shared history of the co-authors. Anyone who loves Carl Hiaasen or Christopher Moore will enjoy this book.


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