The literary publishing game has always been an arranged marriage between art and commerce, and the proliferation of novels written by television or movie stars may be taken as one of the unfortunate and inevitable byproducts. It’s a foolproof arrangement, one that guarantees sales to the publisher and artistic legitimacy to the pretty face.
Ah, but what of the reader?
In the case of David Duchovny’s new book, “Bucky [Expletive] Dent,’’ they get a hastily adapted screenplay about fathers, sons, and baseball, one that arrives right in time for the start of the season. Ka-ching!
Our hero is the sort of confection endemic to Hollywood scripts: a lovable loser with loads of untapped potential. Ted is an Ivy League alum — like Duchovny himself (Princeton undergraduate; Yale grad school) — who dreams of being a writer. Ted, however, spends most of his time getting stoned, listening to the Grateful Dead, and slinging peanuts at Yankee Stadium.
Fortunately, he has a dying father to lend the proceedings some gravitas.
Marty is another cinematic archetype: the estranged dad eager for the tingly realms of reconciliation and redemption.
Both father and son have love interests, Latin women on call to offer up exotic beauty, hot sex, and delicious spicy food — just like in real life.
It’s worth noting that the novel is set in the summer of 1978, although Duchovny references slang, hobbies, and even films that didn’t exist back then. What matters is the prevailing pennant race because Marty is, alas, a Red Sox lifer, while Ted pulls for the Yankees.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around Ted’s manic effort to keep his pop from learning of the Red Sox’s epic swoon, so the old man can go out feeling like a winner.
Duchovny’s prose is, to put it gently, overeager. In the space of a few hundred words he compares Ted’s gait to Richard Nixon, Quasimodo, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s monster. He also compares the father-son relationship to “a desert in a drought: one little match was all it took to ignite hellfire.”
Right. We all know how flammable sand is.
So there’s a lot of dreck to wade through here, “a full stadium of half-baked notions” as Ted puts it early on.
The good news is that Duchovny does, from time to time, nail the fraught masculine dynamics that lie at the heart of this indulgent farrago.
Here he is, for example, describing how fandom functions in the lives of his heroes:
“Father and son hadn’t talked in years, but they could do this — watch a game miles and boroughs away from each other, sit in a silence marked by the occasional grunt or ‘You see that?’ inspired by the play. It was like some sort of elaborate wordless ritual dance handed down from man to man, generation to generation. It stood in for actual communication, of which there was none, but implied the possibility of conversation, or at least the validation of conversation as a concept. It was empty and strangely hopeful.”
It will come as no surprise that Marty winds up rising from his deathbed to join Ted on a zany pilgrimage up to Boston for the one-game playoff immortalized by Bucky Dent’s three-run homer.
None of this is believable, particularly if you’ve ever cared for someone in the advanced stages of cancer. Then again, this is the sort of novel that traffics in Hollywood’s gauzy shortcuts. You can see the happy ending coming a mile away.
“Bucky [Expletive] Dent’’ isn’t literature. It’s a business arrangement. That being said, it marks an obvious progression from the glib juvenilia of Duchovny’s debut novel, “Holy Cow.’’ Here, the hunky actor at least tries to confront the frailties of fathers and sons, how they seek to love each other, and too often fail, despite the “chasm of need” that lives between them.
BUCKY [EXPLETIVE] DENT
By David Duchovny
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 294 pp., $26Steve Almond is the author, most recently, of “Against Football.’’