Winner of the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction.
A Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel, while also telling the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.
There’s an intimacy to Jason Mott’s fiction, retained even when the scope of his narrative widens. But even by these standards, his fourth novel is a uniquely tight, personal story that digs into deeply emotional territory. Through two interwoven storylines unfolding in a witty, often devastatingly incisive style, Hell of a Book is a journey into the heart of a very particular American experience, one that far too many don’t live to tell ... You may think you see where these two stories are headed, where they will converge and knit together, and what they will have to say at the end, but you don’t. And even if you could, Mott’s bittersweet, remarkably nimble novel would still keep you turning the pages ... a masterwork of balance, as Mott navigates the two narratives and their delicate tonal distinctions. A surrealist feast of imagination that’s brimming with very real horrors, frustrations and sorrows, it can break your heart and make you laugh out loud at the same time, often on the same page. This is an achievement of American fiction that rises to meet this particular moment with charm, wisdom and truth.
... ambitious ... The sands of reality constantly shift under readers' feet as the author feels pressure to ignore his Blackness or speak out about Black issues, receives a visitation from Nicholas Cage and faces the truth about his book's tragic genesis. Mott's unflinching meditation on racism, violence and navigating life as a Black man in America is a surreal and searing triumph
... a novel that confounds the normal parameters of storytelling. What starts out as a relatively straightforward tale about a Black author’s cross-country tour for his novel, also called Hell of a Book, soon meanders into a broader meditation on imaginary friends, mental illness, alcoholism and deep, deep grief. As soon as you think you know where the story is going, the lines between reality and imagination blur, thanks to an unnamed narrator who is unreliable and not entirely likable ... There is a sense of calm in Soot’s story that is in direct and jarring contrast with our narrator’s tell-all. The author’s language is abrasive and assertive, sometimes directly addressing the reader ... the beauty of the novel is in the cracks that distort the plot.