With the word “undercover” in the title, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a novel about crime. It’s really a story about an elite advertising executive, Edward Vincent Prescott III, who makes a terrible blunder in his campaign for the BillyMart wholesale consumer store. The blunder doesn’t cost him his job, however; in a maverick move, his boss suggests that he spend several months undercover as a member of the blue-collar society. It’s an opportunity to research the target audience first-hand. So, Ed Prescott prepares to leave his rich life behind (at least temporarily) and embark on his mission. First, he heads for a BillyMart store (a place he would never normally shop) to check out the people. After singling out one family and following them home to their trailer park, he decides to rent the trailer opposite and observe them more closely. Prescott doesn’t know it yet, but his stay with the “white trash” is going to change him more than he could ever have predicted.
I discovered the author, David Kilpatrick, through his website, and got particularly interested in him because of his blog. It is both honest and sensitive but sometimes hard-hitting, and usually full of dry wit. One of Kilpatrick’s best lines, in describing a particular woman’s attractiveness, was, “I’d be on her like a hobo on a ham sandwich.” That just cracked me up. I figured that if this guy can write like this on the fly in his blog, then his fiction has got to be good. He has written four novels, but I got particularly interested in this one due to him mentioning that some of the events in it were true (but he’s not telling which ones).
Both the title of the book, and the author’s sales pitch, led me to believe this would be a raw read, where humanity at its worst is put under a microscope. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The story is sensitive, concerning itself mostly with exploring the issue of friendship between people at opposite ends of the class spectrum. What a great theme. Another thing that becomes apparent as you read it is that you have absolutely no idea where the story is heading; there is no clear goal for the protagonist to achieve (other than advertising research); no disaster to be averted; no one to save. Usually that makes for a boring read, but not in this case. Each chapter was consistently interesting, and kept dragging me back for more.
Kilpatrick’s style is happily loaded with the same dry wit that you’ll find in his blog. His novels are self-published through print-on-demand, which usually means you get a novel loaded with typos and poor sentence structure. For once an author has done the necessary editing work, and despite the occasional missing comma, you have a smooth read.
I look forward to reading the rest of David Kilpatrick’s novels in due course. This one, at least, deserve a mass-market publishing deal.