Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat
by Todd R. Baker
Aqueous Books, 2016
A book is a book, a movie is a movie, or so our writing professors would tell us. In Secrets of Men… in a Lifeboat Todd R. Baker plays with the line between script and prose, both to his detriment and advantage. It’s tight, objective prose has enough characters thoughts and descriptive filters to make it an interesting and fun read, but the repetition of the characters’ names gets old after the first fifty pages.
And those pages fly by in no time. The book’s 450 pages read more like the standard 110 of a screenplay and the quick scene-to-scene format makes you want to finish it in one sitting. Baker has learned from his time in the film industry, but takes advantage of the room a novel gives one such as room for characters’ thoughts and perspectives and more time to show the protagonist, Luke Morrow’s delightful and compelling relationship with his son, Trevor. Only what Baker hasn’t learned from either medium is that we don’t need all the details. Some stuff isn’t interesting for the audience. I don’t know business lingo. I don’t want to and I don’t need to, but I got my fill of it. The second half of the book that chronicles Luke’s second chance at a Silicon Valley Steve Jobs life gets old after the thirtieth stock rate and four-course dinner you can’t pronounce.
This is a book about redemption. At first, we’re rooting for Luke. His wife hates him and the only explanation is that he gambled with his money. Stereotypically, Trevor’s stepdad is filthy rich and Luke tries time after time to prove that he’s not only a good dad, but capable of supporting his son financially. Problem is, he’s just lost his job and evil step-daddy wants to take Trevor and mom to Martha’s Vineyard. The stress is too much for Luke and he ends up having a nervous breakdown, ending with him blowing his brains out.
Instead of arriving in heaven or hell, he gets a shot at a second life, one where he makes insanely big bucks founding a company, which is basically just Skype with cameras in the household. We get it now, why his wife hates him, even though we’re not sure that the unfaithful jerk he is in his second life was him when Trevor was first born. His sociopathic trip to wealth is painful to get through, but if you’re a glutton for punishment, you’ll manage. Given its structure, moral premise, and California setting, I won’t be surprised when it makes it to the big screen with Baker himself an executive producer. A Hollywood agent with a pile of scripts on his desk could read this book just as quickly and there’s a universal appeal. It’s a hard book to put down, at least for the first part. It’s the opening line that really gets you: “On his fortieth birthday, the man, unshaven and sleepless, unlocks a gun. As comets die overhead, he raises the gun, bruises blooming where cuffs had once strapped him to a bed.” If only there were more lines just as beautiful.
Secrets’ most redeemable quality is that of Luke’s – his relationship with his son is endearing, sweet, and enough to make you consider the lovely parts of parenthood worth the trouble and pain that come along with raising a life. SPOILER ALERT: cop-out happy ending lacking in originality made up for in warm fuzzies. Okay, I like the fuzzies every now and then, but nonetheless, a novel need appeal to the masses as much as the screen.