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20th June
2011
written by Steph

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a break from “serious” fiction. Literary, prize-winning fiction (or at least books that aspire to that level) tends to make up the bulk of my reading diet, and while I wouldn’t have it any other way, there are times when I really just need to read something fun and frivolous and give my brain a break. Normally in such times, I turn to mysteries or something funny, so what could be better than a funny mystery? Would the melding of the two make for something larger than life (and supremely awesome) or would the two beloved factors wind up at war with one another and produce something lesser than the some of its individual parts? If Heads You Lose is anything to go by, I’d say it’s a little bit of both. The idea behind the book is that authors Lisa Lutz & David Hayward (two very real people) have a somewhat fraught past but decide it would be fun and perhaps somewhat therapeutic if they banded together and wrote a mystery novel together. The rules are quite simple: Lisa writes the odd numbered chapters, while David writes the even ones. They aren’t allowed to undo/rewrite anything that the other has put to the page but must play it as it lays. Email correspondence between the two are interspersed between the chapters in which the two provide feedback and “helpful” suggestions for the future direction of the project. Via these missives, it soon becomes clear that the biggest mystery of all is why these two people ever thought working together was a good idea! Rather than bringing them closer together, Heads You Lose may just serve to be the final nail in the coffin when it comes to their friendship. As for the “fictional” mystery that is theoretically at the heart of the novel, it loosely revolves around two orphan siblings, Lacey & Paul, who grow and sell marijuana to make ends meet in a small Northern California town. One night, Lacey stumbles across a headless corpse in their backyard, and despite their best efforts to wash their hands of the situation, the two soon found themselves trying to discover who was killed and why. As the body count begins to rise, however, these two amateur sleuths swiftly begin to wonder whether they wouldn’t have been better off leaving the investigating to the experts… I thought the idea of a “behind-the-scenes” mystery novel sounded like a really fun concept, but I think that perhaps this might not have been the best execution in the end. If not for the footnotes and authorial interjections, I think I would have stopped reading the book because the main mystery was really pretty pathetic. I was never all that interested in finding out who was doing the killings, and the way the mystery developed wasn’t necessarily done in a way that was riveting. Oddly, as the book spirals more and more out of the authors’ control (due to their petty infighting) and objectively gets worse, it also gets better because it becomes more fun. Really the reason I kept reading was to see how the Lisa and David would try to one-up and sabotage each other. Chapter 14 (and the preceding email correspondence) was so laugh-out-loud funny that it alone is perhaps worth the price of the book (not that I paid for this book… I was reading an ARC). I don’t know how hilarious it would be out of context, but for those who have read that far, it is a great pay-off. In the end, the main mystery really seems secondary and beside the point. The thing I found more interesting was dealing with the notion of the authors as fiction. I wound up assuming that everything that was placed on the page was fabricated and crafted, perhaps even the premise itself and the email exchanges, but there were times when I wondered how much I could trust the founding principles of the book. Not knowing what was fact and what was fiction was a fun reading exercise, and I did like peaking into the often private writing process. I have often marveled at how difficult it must be to write a mystery, so it was both funny and interesting to watch Lisa and David bumble along. Although there were elements of this book that faltered, I did think it was a fun read and a nice change of pace. The heaps of snarky interchanges were also much appreciated. It’s not a lifechanging read, but I liked how the authors played with the medium and did something that wasn’t quite so run-of-the-mill. Rating: 3 out of 5

14 Comments

  1. 06/20/2011

    I have been wanting to read this book ever since reading Jenner’s hilarious review on it. It does sound like a really interesting concept, and even though the mystery aspect of it is a little off kilter, it sounds like the infighting and problems with collaboration make the book something that is worth reading for the eyebrow raising factor of it all. I also have been reading a lot of heavy books lately, and need something a little more escapist. My brain and heart feel overloaded, and I would love something a little lighter. I am glad to see that that this one was interesting. Now I am going to buy it for sure. Thanks, Steph!

  2. 06/20/2011

    Interesting review, Steph! I loved the way the authors have collaborated in writing this book. I have always felt that this is something quite difficult – especially with strict rules like this. Once, I alongwith a couple of my writing friends tried writing a story for fun – each of us started different plot-lines one after another and were hoping that they could converge sometime. But we couldn’t continue it for long because our thinking was so different. It was also interesting that more than the story, you found the authors’ interaction more interesting 🙂 This definitely looks like an interesting book.

  3. Sometimes it’s nice to just break free of the same old stuff even if it’s not totally perfect. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this one. Might have to try it myself.

  4. I have read so many great reviews of this, yet I keep forgetting to pick it up. If it’s as funny as it sounds, I’m willing to forgive the weak mystery.

  5. 06/20/2011

    I have seen some not so great reviews for this one, so I am kind of skeptical of whether it’s worth the time to read it, but I love the idea behind it, so I am still undecided. Great review!

  6. 06/27/2011

    @ zibilee: I really was drawn to this book because of the novel premise (pun intended?), even though I haven’t necessarily felt the urge to read anything else by Lisa Lutz. It’s such an interesting experiment that even if it doesn’t fully work, I still felt it was worth the time.
     
    @ Vishy: Oh, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to write in conjunction with others! Then again, I was never good at group work! 😉
     
    @ Pam: I do think there is value in changing this up in all respects of life, but certainly it’s true for my reading choices. I feel like when I read a bunch of books that are all similar in style or tone or content that I begin to burn out on them. This was definitely a palate cleanser!
     
    @ jenn: It really is quite funny! Some of the jokes fall flat, but the ones that work do so well enough that I forgive the few flatliners…
     
    @ Stephanie: Maybe borrow this one from the library? I’m not sure it’s one I’d want to re-read (in fact, I know it’s not!), but there are some fun bits.
     
    @ Alex: It is really gimmicky, but I think that elements of it work well enough that even if it doesn’t necessarily override the gimmick factor, it’s still fun!
    I think Lutz’s name is bigger because she’s the more established author of the two, but maybe it has something to do with the rivalry?

  7. 06/21/2011

    O man, this sounds very… gimmicky. And with the potential to go so wrong. Still, I’m intrigued! Any reason why in the cover Lisa’s name is much bigger than David’s?

  8. 06/22/2011

    Glad you gave your brain a vacation — sorry it wasn’t better though! This sounds confusing to me… I think I would be too distracted to read it. I’m reading Under the Banner of Heaven right now, and while non-fiction it’s still juicy. Just in case you want to continue that vacation. 🙂

  9. 06/24/2011

    Gosh, I’ve never heard of a book constructed like this before. I’m intrigued …

  10. i often read ‘lighter’ fiction in between the books i read for school because i need a break. when i’m at home, the last thing i really want to do is labor over a piece of uber literary fiction. sorry, but that’s the truth. 🙂 i’m willing to tackle a few literary fic pieces a year but mostly i prefer easier reads. the premise of ‘heads you lose’ sounds like it could have been fun–and i love the cover–but i’m a bit bummed it didn’t work as well as it could have.

    in a side note, how are your epic travel plans coming along? have you hammered out your general itinerary for the big trip? i’m eager to hear all about them.

  11. I think this one sounds like fun — I like the idea of poking fun with the writing process and the behind the scenes of the mystery. Too bad the main story wasn’t better initially, but I can see how it going out of control would be fun.

  12. 06/27/2011

    @ Wallace: I’m all for giving my brain some time off every now and then, and even though this book didn’t change my world, I feel like the whole “nothing ventured, nothing gained” adage is true! Will have to check out Under the Banner of Heaven… thanks for the rec!
     
    @ Nicola: Yes, even though I felt the mystery was rather forgettable and sloppy, the motivation behind the book was interesting enough to make it stand out! Not sure that any more books need to be written in this fashion, but as a one-off, it was fun.
     
    @ natalie: I think that maybe if I had to read and analyze books all the time for work I’d be less inclined to do it in my spare time as well, so I don’t fault you there!
    As for epic travel plans, they continue to evolve, but we have a rough itinerary set, at least in terms of countries and order of visits and approximate time spent… I’m also working on a rough budget so we have some idea of how much this whole thing will cost and how much we need to keep saving. The estimated launch date (or when S&TI! goes global, as I like to think of it), is in about 14 months from now, so as we get closer to departing for parts unknown, I’ll certainly be sharing more details on the blog!
     
    @ Kim: Yes, I am a big sucker for meta-fiction and the like so the whole idea sounded like a lot of fun to me. It didn’t necessarily deliver everything I hoped, but on the other hand, it did give me some insights I didn’t expect, so I’ll call it a win!

  13. I thought this might be a fun read – initially the “behind the scene” writing exchange was interesting, then I got kinda bored by it. And I agree the actual murder story was secondary and I wasn’t impressed. I ended up abandoning it (http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2011/06/did-not-finish-3-books.html)

  14. 07/10/2011

    @ christa: Yes, the premise does wind up getting a bit tired… I think if the main mystery had been stronger, the book would have been better, but I admit I did find the author interchanges fun, even if they did get rather childish!

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