All My Colors follows Todd Milstead, a wannabe writer who loves nothing more than to use his eidetic memory to quote from literature in vain showings-off to anyone willing to listen (and listen they will, as he throws parties with a lot of free booze). During one such gathering, he obnoxiously begins to quote from a book entitled All My Colors, written by Jake Turner, only no one has heard of it. Confused, as he knows every line cover-to-cover, Todd goes to his local bookstore and turns his own personal library inside-out to find this book. But he can’t. Because it doesn’t exist.
Faced with a divorce and lack of money, Todd wants to write a book to “get rich and famous” (ha!). Suddenly, he is compelled to write All My Colors, to pen the passages that haunt his waking life, with the justification that if no one remembers it then nothing bad can happen. In hilarious commentary about the writing process, Todd seems almost possessed in his penning of the book, and a few months later finds he has landed a publishing deal.
But something else seems to be haunting Todd. His friends are disappearing and his soon-to-be ex-wife has begun a new relationship. As Todd’s book becomes more popular he has darker experiences until one day, at a bookshop, he sees it: All My Colors by Jake Turner. And that’s when the plot takes a really dark turn…
All My Colors (the real one, not the fictional one) is jam-packed with hilarious insights into the literary world and those that populate it: booksellers, writers, editors and publishers aren’t safe from Quantick’s sharp wit and observational comedy. A particularly strong character is Timothy, the owner of Todd’s local bookstore. Whimsical yet full of inner rage and jealousy, he likes to pretend he reads more than he does. A particularly funny passage happens after he receives a compliment on his bookshop:
“Why, thank you […] ’Tis a small thing, but all mine own. To quote the poet.” Timothy had no idea which poet he was quoting, or even if he was quoting […] But it must have done the trick, because the woman looked impressed.
A core strength of All My Colors is that anyone who has been involved in publishing or the writing process will feel they have met these characters before. Whether it’s the arrogant wannabe-writer, the aloof old-timey bookseller, the opportunity-seizing publisher, or the dreaded editor, Quantick has analysed stereotypes and scratched underneath the surface of an industry known for glamourising itself. And he has managed to do that through the lens of an unlikable protagonist, which works because Todd isn’t meant to be likable. He is meant to represent the utter privilege in the literary community that is there because of said privilege and not because of talent or graft. Although Todd becomes slightly less arrogant as the book progresses, it is more because he is out of his depth as a writer and not due to character development. For example, Todd at one point reflects:
Old Todd was still in there, but new Todd was the boss. New Todd liked to sit on the couch. […] New Todd drank his one glass of wine with dinner and helped with the washing-up (he got through that by imagining he was being photographed for a magazine feature—“I’m no macho pig,” says Todd Milstead).
Quantick explores outer personality vs inner thoughts well as he switches between different characters point-of-view, all the while following Todd. Clichés are picked apart (“everyone has a book in them!”) and women’s role in the industry is explored through a strong feminist lens.
Where is the horror in all this, you may ask? Although All My Colors is not first-and-foremost a horror book, there are plenty of haunting analogies and creepy plot-related developments (spoilers, begone!) to keep horror fans satiated. Quantick is also a strong horror writer, scribing passages such as:
[He] didn’t look good. His cheeks were all chewed up and in ribbons. [He] looked like he’d fallen into a shredder, or like he’d tried to make his own gills and botched it. Through the slits in [his] cheeks, Todd could see the cause of all the trouble. [His] new teeth. They were a dull blue-gray, and serrated. Todd could see tiny bolts where someone (or something) has fixed them to [his] gums. The bolts were rusty red with dried blood.
As the horror develops and we find out what is behind Todd’s strange experiences, the pace quickens to the point of feeling rushed. Yet this doesn’t detract from the overall quality of All My Colors, which will have wide appeal to a broad audience with its intricate balance of humour and nightmarish horror.
Ultimately, Quantick has set out to ask where writers get their ideas from and has hilariously deconstructed storytelling and authorship. The twists in the plot testify to legitimate questions surrounding originality and people’s desperation to be seen as unique, no matter the cost. All My Colors is a fast-paced genre-bending whirlwind of hilarity and horror, of writing and being read, and is told with wit and insight. A must-read for all those in the literary world and beyond.