Christopher Beha’s Arts & Entertainments is built around a classic morality-tale structure: the devil’s bargain, the spiraling consequences, the choice between a good reputation and a good conscience.
Eddie Hartley is an acting teacher of the “those who can’t do” type, whose marriage is being ground down by his wife Susan’s longing for the children they can’t conceive on their own. To pay for another round of IVF treatments, Hartley sells a sex tape from his youthful relationship with an actress who has gone on to become a megastar. He plans to keep his face off the tape and his name out of the press, but that plan turns out as well as literally all of his previous ones.
Hartley becomes a celebrity: what we have instead of Punch and Judy shows, or lives of the saints. He’s part Wile E. Coyote, the battered villain whose pain provokes the audience’s laughter, and part scapegoat, punished and outcast for our sins as much as for his own. By the end of the novel he’s been fired, kicked out by his wife, pelted with eggs, even drained of blood; a shadowy reality-TV king (albeit a king enslaved by his audience) orchestrates a reunion with Susan which is as unsettling as the drugged-up “happy ending” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.