Billy Ridgeway is a loser who doesn’t seem to realize he’s a loser, and he’s waiting for the world to deliver everything he thinks he deserves. It just may be his lucky day when Lucifer shows up at his house, promising to have his novel published if Billy does one little task for him.
Billy initially says no, thinking grand thoughts that saying no to the Devil means he’s actually a good and noble person. Then he gets drawn into a weird world of warlocks and poetry readings, and Lucifer’s deal seems to be the only way out.
It’s an okay story, but Billy is really hard to root for. He’s kind of a clueless jerk, seriously self-absorbed, a lousy roommate and boyfriend, and doesn’t understand why he’s always broke when he doesn’t bother showing up to his sandwich-making job. He thinks he tries hard, but he’s totally coasting and feeling abused that all his dreams haven’t come true. Lucifer is a more likeable character.
Like Billy, the writing thinks it’s cleverer than it is. Each chapter has little subheadings, letting you know what’s coming: “Cultural Norms and When to Ignore Them. Drunk Senior Editors. Scary Architecture. Oh Yeah Don’t Forget About God.” And then those things all get lightly touched on during the chapter. It’s like the author is saying “Hey look! I’m going to be clever! Don’t miss this bit right here!”
Billy inevitably accepts Lucifer’s proposal, and then we get to the Weirdness, as promised. Things are a little goofy, and it’s actually a little annoying to see Billy get to be the hero of his story, just like he always thought he deserved. It feels a little unearned.
At one point, Billy is whining about getting his ass kicked by the warlocks (he thinks he should succeed in his quest with no speedbumps), and senses Lucifer rolling his eyes: “He wonders, briefly and unhappily, whether the Devil is a better man than he.” There are those little glimpses of self-awareness throughout the book, but nothing ever really sinks in.
The story is a fun ride, and I think the author has potential. This is Bushnell’s first novel, and I think he could settle in and be less “trying too hard.” And a more likeable character could help too.