Have you ever been mistaken for someone else and considered just going along with it? The titular character in Chris Belden’s rollicking academic farce, SHRIVER, takes that impulse to a new level when he is mistaken for a famous, misanthropic author who shares his name.
When lonely shut-in Shriver receives a letter inviting him to be the headlining author for a prestigious writers’ conference, he assumes it is his mischievous, estranged college roommate playing a prank on him and RSVPs “yes.” Weeks later, Shriver receives a packet of information about the conference and pre-paid round-trip airfare and begins to suspect that this may not be a hoax after all.
When he decides to attend the conference regardless, he realizes that the conference organizers think he is the Shriver—a revered, famously reclusive author who has not been seen in years. He has never heard of, let alone read, the iconic book the people at the conference think he wrote.
What follows is a comedy of errors in which Shriver stumbles at every turn in his impersonation of the author but is lavishly praised regardless because he is a “genius.” Along the way, Shriver falls in love with the conference organizer, becomes a prime suspect in the sudden disappearance of a poet, and must contend with a mysterious stalker who seems to know his secret and a man who shows up claiming to be the real Shriver.
On the surface, SHRIVER is a farcical look at literary pretension and the academic world. The scenes in which Shriver is fawned over and revered as a member of the literati are hysterical but also telling. He participates in a panel discussion and teaches a creative writing class and in both situations, he barely says anything at all and tends to answer questions with questions but is admired regardless.
On a deeper level, the book is a thought-provoking exploration of writerly insecurity and imposter syndrome. Shriver may truly be an imposter, but doesn’t every writer feel like an imposter, undeserving of their accolades and success, at some point in their career? The search for the “real” Shriver, the man who is truly deserving of the praise that is lavished on the protagonist, is a surreal examination of identity and what it means to be a successful writer.
SHIVER is a novel that will have you chuckling and shaking your head, have you quickly turning pages to see what other misfortunes and shenanigans can befall poor Shriver, and leave you with much to think about once you’ve turned the last page. This writers’ conference is not to be missed.