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Generica

by Will Ferguson

Edwin de Valu, the hero of Will Ferguson’s Generica, is a bitter junior editor who, by publishing a self-help book that leaves its readers in a state of blissful contentment, unwittingly ends the world as we know it.

A composite of guides to fighting addictions, having great sex, losing weight, and every other cause of self-doubt, the hefty tome strikes Edwin as just another stinker in the weekly deluge of unsolicited manuscripts. But when his boss Mr. Mead – a caricature of an arrogant and immovable Baby Boomer – demands Edwin contribute a title to the fall list, he realizes he has nothing better to offer.

Ferguson lives in Calgary and is perhaps best known for Why I Hate Canadians, a satire of, well, Canadians. As a satire of the publishing industry, Generica is occasionally amusing, poking at publicists with chipper, sing-song names, and making light of in-house hierarchies (with poetry editors at the bottom). Otherwise, it’s as ungracefully conceived as the self-help books it mocks.

Characters are flat – though Edwin, who endures his share of trauma, sounds a consistently shrill note as he complains about writers, editors, and readers – and the quest to understand how the self-help book works as a cultural opiate, causing everyone to abandon their jobs and their vices, is plodding and overwritten. The book’s most unfortunate feature is a clichéd refrain that goes something like, “and that was a decision he would come to regret.”

Generica doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a slim entertainment. Still, slim books needn’t be written with a ham hand. Even if Ferguson doesn’t share Edwin’s contempt for writers, he seems to have the same low opinion of readers.