Written Out

Roger Olivetti has it made: a comfortable and rewarding career as an editor, a brownstone in downtown Manhattan, and a lovely, bestselling novelist wife. Then the bottom falls out of the publishing industry and his marriage simultaneously, and Roger ends up living in the basement of his mother’s house in the Long Island town where he grew up. While planning his comeback, he falls in with people he once knew, or thought he did, and soon finds himself with an unwelcome new career as a suburban hit man, scrambling to stay a step ahead of the local Mafia – and his mother’s book club, as they slowly puzzle out the identity of the killer.

Written Out is fast-paced and funny suburban noir, Fargo on Long Island, a darkly comic tale of social mobility, self-publishing, and murder.

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Fans of the TV series Fargo will welcome this witty black comedy from Mittelmark (Age of Consent). New York book editor Roger Olivetti seems to have hit bottom after an affair with a colleague ends his marriage to a bestselling novelist. Homeless and broke, Roger squats in the basement of his mother’s Long Island house while she winters in Florida. His situation worsens after a chance encounter at a gym with an old friend, real estate broker Lisa Capitano, with whom he soon starts having sex. Lisa complains that she’s burdened with the care of her elderly mother, who’s suffering from dementia; she persuades Roger that not only is euthanasia justified but he should do the deed. The murder doesn’t lead to Lisa asking Roger to move in with her, as he expected, but to a request to put another woman’s infirm parent out of her misery, in exchange for $8,000. The hapless Roger only finds himself getting even more over his head. This darkly funny book, with its jaundiced view of the world of books and publishing, deserves a wide readership.

starred review, Publishers Weekly 

Publishers Weekly also ran a Q&A, which you can see here, but they used the least interesting of the responses I gave them, so I posted the whole thing here.

When an audiobook makes you laugh out loud repeatedly, you know that the book and the narrator, here John Rubinstein, are exceptional. This dark comedy focuses on moderately successful editor/writer Roger Olivetti, whose marriage to a successful writer is on the rocks because of his own poor decisions. As a result, Roger goes to extremes to try to improve his plight and reunite with his wife, who has fallen under the spell of an actor known primarily for his endowment. Rubinstein captures every nuance of Roger’s torments and is especially effective when Roger takes on criminal tasks. Through moments of levity, incredulity, and fear, Rubinstein captures every emotion. His most memorable scenes involve Roger’s wife’s new lover and the mob characters Roger must face.

AudioFile Magazine

How does an ordinary English major living the literary life in Manhattan—an editor, married to a best selling novelist, comfy in a downtown brownstone—find himself sleeping on his mother’s lumpy couch on the wrong end of Long Island and forced to become a hit man for hire—albeit a hit man with a creepily suburban clientele? Now that is some premise, and Mittelmark somehow makes it work, drawing us unwillingly into the life of his not particularly likable antihero, Roger Olivetti, a guy who careens from one bad decision to another terrible one. Yes, Roger is reprehensible on so many levels, and we want desperately to despise him, but we can’t quite do it, mainly because we simply must see just how low this sublime mix of bookish snob and hopeless sad sack is willing to let himself go. The devil has never been more in the details than it is here, as Mittelmark ladles on such deliciously absurd bits as the role played by the cantankerous members of Roger’s mother’s book club in trying to suss out what the failed editor is doing with his free time.

Booklist

I laughed my way through the sardonic pages of Howard Mittelmark’s Written Out, wherein our hero Roger Olivetti proceeds to shoot himself in the foot again and again and again. A onetime high-flying novelist and editor at a New York publishing house, poor old Roger loses his job, his Manhattan apartment, his marriage, and ends up crashing in his mother’s much-hated basement on Long Island. And it’s all his fault. He has big plans, though, such as finally sitting down to write that breakthrough novel he knows he’s capable of. But first, he decides to get drunk. Bad decision. He winds up having sex with a mobster’s ex-wife. The mobster, being of a kindly nature, only breaks a few of Roger’s toes, leaving his fingers free to type out his self-proclaimed masterpiece. Enter writer’s block. Limping only slightly, he turns his back on his stalled novel and sets off to find a new job in publishing. But, oops! He finds himself blackballed because he slept with his own agent’s wife. Roger’s penchant for making bad decisions eventually leads him to a job in a vastly different industry—that of hit man. Gritting his teeth, he duly knocks off an elderly woman who belongs to his mother’s book group, and after that, another old lady. Hey, a man’s gotta work, right? But being a hit man turns out not to be as much fun as it is in the movies, so when his own ex-wife’s new boyfriend, a big-time Hollywood star, offers Roger the job of ghostwriting his memoir, he jumps at the chance. Again, there’s a problem. The star doesn’t want a standard memoir—he wants it written from the point of view of his enormous penis. Thus Roger’s woes continue, almost all of them caused by his utter idiocy. In a way, Written Out is a modern twist on Voltaire’s Candide, and it offers many snarkily amusing insights about today’s publishing industry. In one hilarious passage about a famous female novelist, Roger muses, “Famous novelists weren’t actually famous, they were just famous to other novelists who aspired to being famous novelists, and to readers, who still only aspired to being novelists. The only novelists that were genuinely famous were famous for being rich novelists, not for having written novels.”

Mystery Scene Magazine

Dark, sharp, and bitingly funny. Written Out combines suburban noir, black comedy, and literary satire in one deliciously twisted novel. Grab it.

Meg Gardiner, author of the UNSUB series

This rollicking tall tale of Roger Olivetti, a ghostwriter turned hired killer, brings to mind the classic crime comedies of Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block—but Howard Mittelmark raises the stakes with his daft riffs on the gig economy, literary publishing, free will, and the origin of consciousness. Written Out is a winning farce that will satisfy the Harvardian and the henchman alike, with brains, brawn, bodies, and banter for days.

J. Robert Lennon, author of Broken River

Like an episode of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm with a body count. Written Out is what happens when your career implodes, your marriage disintegrates, you sleep with the wrong women (repeatedly), and you just can’t seem to stop killing people. Oh, and you also owe money to the Mob. But nobody said that the literary life was easy. Howard Mittelmark has created a dark comedy that’s exceptionally well-written, and sharply, painfully, funny.

Christopher Farnsworth, author of Blood Oath and Killfile

Written Out is the funniest novel I’ve read in a long time. Mittelmark is a deadpan genius and like Camus, he understands how easily bachelorhood can devolve into existential crisis and then murder.

Jim Gavin, author of Middle Men, creator of AMC’s Lodge 49