“While Anthony peppers the narrative with pop references that place it firmly in the past, his protagonist’s problems are all too familiar in our energy-conscious, financially challenged times… Something for Nothing is a character-driven comic thriller, and readers will hammer along as much to find out what happens next as to see Martin absorb life’s punches. Because he’s so much fun to watch, here’s hoping Anthony brings him back for a second round.”
That Martin’s fate is always teetering between skin-of-his-teeth triumph and near-certain failure is the source of this book’s abundant comedy but also its more poignant undercurrents. Like the protagonists of Seth Greenland’s Shining City or Eric Puchner’s more sinister Model Home, Martin is a shlubby Californian transfixed by fantasies of winning and hounded by fears of losing. It’s no accident that some of the novel’s best scenes take place at the racetrack, where “you’d get to step inside a little pocket of time in which, for a minute or two, you were part of something that had come together in just the way you hoped it would.” And where a desperate man can put “just a little bit of time and distance between you and the thing that was chasing you.”
The news is full of stories about people behaving badly. When one gets caught, we wonder, “What was he/she possibly thinking?” In David Anthony’s funny, smart debut novel, Something for Nothing, readers get to climb right into the head of one such reprobate. . . . Two dead bodies and one inquiring cop later, things are so bad, his unattainable fantasy becomes groping his way back to a normal life. This may be set almost 40 years ago, but Anthony’s biting novel rings with truth about today’s culture of instant gratification.
When reading Something for Nothing, the suspenseful first novel by David Anthony, I had to examine the teeny photo on the back cover a couple of times to convince myself that the author wasn’t some old codger who, half a century after putting pen to paper, had finally gotten his rant about gas lines, teenage rebellion, and America’s waning power published. But no. Anthony appears to be a young writer who, without a single anachronistic misstep, has fabricated a ’70s period piece complete with a toupee-wearing hero who thinks, acts, and talks exactly as I would expect him to. . . . Don’t be fooled by the literary veneer, because you are at serious risk of missing your transit stop when reading this novel.
“Martin Anderson, a used-light-aircraft salesman, is a neurotic fibber and fantasist, a shortcut taker and work shirker, vain enough to wear toupees however unconvincing, and vaguely voyeuristic. But Anthony…makes Anderson something more, too: He is a father, husband, and wannabe provider snared in a notion of American suburban manhood that would run anyone ragged.”
PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY— It’s 1974, gas is scarce, and Martin Anderson’s cushy life is taking a serious nosedive in Anthony’s clever and surprisingly heartfelt debut. Living in the wealthy Oakland, Calif., suburb of Walnut Station with his family, Martin owns a small airplane dealership that, before the economic slump, was booming, and Martin spent accordingly: cabin in Tahoe, nice cars, swimming pool, and, most importantly, his racehorses. But now he’s in serious debt—until Val Desmond, Martin’s horse trainer, comes to him with a proposition. Val knows men who are eager to transport large quantities of heroin into the U.S. from Mexico. Enter Martin and his piloting expertise. Soon he’s flying to Ensenada whenever Val gives him the signal. Of course, nothing goes smoothly and soon there’s a narcotics detective sniffing around—supposedly about an unrelated case—not to mention a gruesome double murder and Martin’s deteriorating relationship with his wife, Linda. The parallels Anthony draws between the 1974 economic crisis and our own are successful precisely because they’re not overt, just like his depiction of Martin as an antihero succeeds because his ridiculous antics are laced with a yearning to belong that’s so intense it borders on deranged innocence, rendering him the most lovable drug smuggler in ages.
“Where this book exceeds the expectations of its formula is in the finesse and wit with which Anthony handles both the setting and the swaggering, self-absorbed but often likable protagonist—he captures the ethos of the ’70s and the soul of sad-sack Martin admirably, and the links to our own time are compelling.”
Martin Anderson is in big trouble. The oil crisis of 1974 has dried up sales of small planes at Anderson Aircrafts, preventing him from keeping up payments on the big house in the Northern California suburbs with a pool in the backyard and a Caddy in the garage, deep-sea-fishing boat, cabin at Lake Tahoe, racehorse, and gambling debts. Rather than sell his company, he opts for the remedy offered by his horse trainer (to whom he also owes big bucks) and starts flying shipments of heroin in from Mexico. Meanwhile, his lust for his neighbor’s beautiful wife has him doing stupid things. Then Lieutenant Jim Slater, a risk-taking narco cop now working the burbs, starts turning up. A nebbishy dreamer whose fantasies often turn into outright lies, Martin stumbles along, seemingly able to take action that is decisive, even inspired, only when threatened with extreme danger. Anthony’s first novel takes time to gain momentum, then speeds to an adrenaline-charged climax in a conflict fueled by greed. Provocative, genrespanning fiction by an author to watch. — Michele Leber
In his own words, here is David Anthony’s Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Something for Nothing:
Something for Nothing is set in 1974, at the height of the Arab Oil Embargo, and the list I’ve come up with here is an effort to capture the mood of that era. On the one hand this means the looser, more wide open sense of things that pervaded American life back then: shaggy hair, funky clothes, kids off doing who knows what, desegregation in schools, and “women’s lib” (as Archie Bunker put it scornfully in All in the Family). On the other hand, this means the dawning realization that in many ways the party was over in America. Vietnam, Watergate, Patty Hearst, the oil crisis and economic decline—suddenly we were vulnerable and uncertain.
This mix—possibility versus anxiety—is figured in the actions of my main character, Martin Anderson, who confronts his mounting debt by using his small aircraft business as a front for flying heroin up from Mexico. This combination is also, I hope, reflected in my song list, about half of which is made up of songs from this era. Martin’s perspective on the world is frequently mediated by elements of popular culture—films like The French Connection and The Exorcist, and tv shows like Bonanza and Wide World of Sports. But his relationship to the world is also informed by music. Sometimes it’s as if he’s a character in his own movie, with a soundtrack running in his head. I won’t say how that movie turns out, but hopefully the below list will give you a feel for the sort of person he is as he stumbles through the rich and wild world of early-1970s America.
BETH FISH READS – There’s a lot to like about this novel, but two aspects really stand out. First is the time period. I was in college during the early 1970s, and in my mind, Anthony brilliantly re-creates the era of Patty Hearst, the oil embargo, and the Nixon administration. The second is the complexity of Martin, who at heart is a family man but who at the same time wants the extravagant lifestyle that pushed him just a little bit too far in debt and a little bit too beholden to the wrong sort of people. . . . Martin is such a mix of bad and good, smart and stupid, selfish and caring that I just had to keep reading.
BETH FISH READS | Imprint Extra: David Anthony and the Mixing of Genres – David discusses the genre of Something for Nothing on Beth Fish Reads:
Mixing Genres: The Suburban Noir
Someone asked me recently about the genre of my novel, Something for Nothing. “I mean, is it a thriller?” she asked. “Or a domestic kind of thing?”
It was the question I had both hoped for and feared. Hoped for because I think my book is actually an interesting blend of these two genres. Feared because I know that this sounds like a bit of a cop-out. Or, worse, as if I’m just indecisive.
ForeWord Reviews – “[Anthony's] achievement here is his main character’s tragicomic inner life. As Martin spins out rationalizations and fantasies—he reckons himself to be on a moral par with Robin Hood or Jack the Giant Killer—readers will laugh and point fingers, but they will also see something of themselves.”
“Insightful and wickedly funny, Something for Nothing tells the story of a nefarious charmer caught up in the excesses of his American Dream. David Anthony has crafted a whip smart debut, what is certain to be a word-of-mouth sensation. This is a book for our times.” – Amy Mackinnon, author of critically acclaimed Tethered
“David Anthony’s novel Something for Nothing reminds me of Richard Ford’s early work: Martin Anderson, it’s airplane dealing, drug muling, neighbor’s wife coveting, reluctant family-man protagonist is both brutal and eloquent, his rise and fall (and rise again?) all the more moving because he’s aware that he’s to blame to for his tale of woe, even if he’s slow to accept the blame. The book is set during the Nixon era gas crisis, but the parallels between that time and ours are obvious, and compelling; as this terrific cautionary tale makes clear, Martin Anderson’s bad decisions might have been ours, might still be ours.” —Brock Clarke, author of Exley and An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England
“Funny, sly, gritty and hugely entertaining, Something For Nothing is quite an accomplishment, kind of James Lee Burke crossed with John Cheever, but utterly sharp and distinctive in its own right. This is a fantastic, big-time book.” – Martin Clark, author of The Many Aspects of Legal Living and The Legal Limit
“Something for Nothing is a terrific debut novel–meticulously detailed, fluent, and even wise. Make room on your bookshelves for David Anthony.” – Thomas Perry, author of Strip, Nightlife, Dead Aim and a dozen other thrillers.