I had never heard of Douglas Kennedy the author, but that’s not so surprising when I have already confessed to being a literary snob. I like books that make me laugh or make me think or both at once, if possible. Kennedy’s “Temptation” offers neither humour nor thought, but the Book Club chose it for this month’s selection and since I am nothing if not compliant I read it. The best thing about it is that it makes no demands on the reader. “Temptation” is very, very, very, easy to read. That probably accounts for its popularity.
There’s something to be said for light literature. You can read it anywhere, on a plane, at a bus stop or in a hotel lobby and still carry on a conversation or perform neuro-surgery. The plot should be simple, the characters generally distinguishable from one another and there should be some sort of denouement which will be satisfactory to the reader, even if it’s rather implausible.
Kennedy fulfills all of these criteria. The novel is about a writer, David Armitage, who finds “overnight success” and proceeds to be enthralled by all the trappings of wealth. He reveals a weaker side to his character, dumps his wife and child, spends, spends spends and begins a downward spiral into self-destruction. So much for original theme.
Most of the characters in “Temptation” are self-absorbed social climbers who want to profit from David’s success, but this is Hollywood, so what else is new? Apart from two nice characters in the novel, the rest are caricatures of one dimensional grubs. Into this plot enters a sort of George Souros cum Howard Hughes weirdo who never makes sense. We are supposed to regard this billionaire as some sort of Satanic creature, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, perhaps, who has come to ruin David’s joy by leading him into temptation.
This novel is so blatantly didactic that it smacks of the pulpit. David is a modern Icarus who flies too close to the sun and is consumed by it. Apparently, the American dream of ambition and success are bad things, according to the author and so David must be taught a lesson.
There is so much symbolism here and it’s all unsubtle, which is paradoxical isn’t it? Everything is spelled out in full, so that nothing can be deduced or discussed. There is no controversy at all. David was greedy. David was selfish and so must suffer. It’s no mere coincidence that he loses weight, grows his hair and beard and someone makes a reference to Jesus. David’s being crucified. Get it? That’s what I mean by nothing left to chance. Kennedy leaves no message unhammered.
Can I recommend “Temptation”? Yes, as light reading which should make all failures very content in their little hovels. Rich people bad, poor people, good. I have heard that message somewhere before and camels having a hard time getting through eyes of needles springs to mind, but as one of my favourite TV characters once commented on being reminded that the meek shall inherit the earth. “Yes, but the meek don’t want it.”
If you like moralising then you will be satisfied by Douglas Kennedy’s “Temptation”. Don’t be surprised, though, if somebody turns it into a film with Jude Law or Tom Hanks as the star or maybe Tom Cruise. Surely not Mel Gibson, though he would enjoy the fallen idol and messianic role, wouldn’t he?