Editorial Review: Public Opinion by Nathan Pettijohn
Public Opinion by Nathan Pettijohn is a compelling read—with each chapter there’s another disturbingly dark and authentic mirror being raised to reflect slippery, immoral, and opportunistic human behavior.
From the opening scene, it’s clear our protagonist is not a heroic good guy. Herb commits a random act of vicious vandalism to release a burst of endorphins and overcome the sluggishness of alcohol, masking his distaste for dealing with the entitlement of the rich and famous.
Even if the reader is at first inclined to sympathize with a lowly fixer who cleans up the PR mess of immorality and stupidity of celebrity; it’s rapidly clear that Herb is no angel. While the ancient art of grifting says “you can’t con an honest person”; Herb doesn’t just scam those who can afford it and ethically “deserve” it; he’ll bribe, cheat, blackmail, and do whatever it takes to make a buck.
While Public Opinion follows Herb’s downward ethical trajectory to a point where legal or natural justice may prevail, it provides a fascinating insight into the ease with which a person’s reputation and life can be manipulated in an online world full of bots, shills, and sock puppets in the hands of an unscrupulous but technically savvy criminal. Of how fake news can be given legitimacy. Of how easy it is to manufacture the downfall of someone; or turn a terrible product into this year’s Oscar winner.
There isn’t a single lovable character in Public Opinion. Even Herb’s girlfriend, Ruby, with whom he accidentally starts a family as he tries to turn his life around is by turns sweet and screaming banshee. Herb’s machismo is boosted by landing the hottest porn star on the planet and he doesn’t mind participating in packaging “content” for Ruby’s video feed. He’s proud of her work ethic but baffled by the dichotomy of her rampant feminism and self-exploitation-which isn’t exploitation, because it’s her choice.
Ruby, in fact, is the only character who eventually takes a strong moral stand when she discovers the depths to which Herb has sunk into a destructive spiral of self-justification that sees others as the evil perpetrators and himself as a passenger in their misdeeds.
Pettijohn is a confident writer who has cleverly constructed a claustrophobic world of privilege and abuse, deceit and manipulation in what feels to be an authentic representation of the least attractive side of Hollywood. While not lovable, his characters are intriguing, three-dimensional, viciously self-motivated, and intensely flawed.
After a dose of Public Opinion, I’m thinking that most readers will be less likely to long for a taste of Hollywood celebrity and more likely to view with suspicion the abundance of clickbait that swamps the internet. False news or manufactured opportunity ready to scam the unwary or time poor who don’t have the time, skills or inclination to test the veracity of every story served up to entertain or manipulate public opinion.
It's also likely that you’ll be adding Pettijohn to the list of authors that you follow, hoping that this will be the first of many novels showcasing his sharp wit and scathing portrayal of human frailty and fractured morality. IMHO, Public Opinion is the book to read now, before everyone starts talking about it!