Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Donald E. Westlake's Get Real has a unique premise. John Dortmunder and the gang agree to be filmed for a TV reality show. They will do their work in front of the cameras with their faces never shown.
The problem for them is how to do this while pulling off a real heist against their employers.
Dortmunder et al. have a particular attitude toward money. Money earned as salary is somehow tainted. But money gotten in a heist is "pure." So there has to be a real heist.
The book is filled with Westlake's sarcasm toward reality TV. At one point, when the real thieves want to back out, they suggest that the TV people just replace them with actors. That's when the producer tells them--
"If we use actors, then it's got to be a scripted show, so then we need writers, and all at once we're into unions and all kinds of other expenses and it prices us right out of the market. The whole point of reality shows is to give the networks a way to fill airtime on the cheap."
Of course, the reality show isn't real at all. It is scripted. It has writers. It just calls them production assistants. Those people make up the situations and "suggest" lines, but they aren't writers, at least according to the way the TV people see it. They don't belong to the writer's unions. They aren't given health insurance and other perks like that.
So the reality show finds a way around having to pay writers, an insight which surely had special meaning to a writer like Donald E. Westlake.
There is a kind of cynicism behind this book. It is written by someone who doesn't trust the world--at least its corporations and their minions. Everything is shady. Money runs everything. The big corporations find any way they can to stab working people in the back. (Talk about a contemporary, up-to-the-minute mystery novel!)
Dortmunder and his friends somehow redress the insult by stealing from the corporation and keeping the money for themselves. They are not Robin Hood. They don't stand for the little people. They stand for themselves.
All in all, this is a hugely entertaining book. I have a lot of catching up to do with Donald E. Westlake.