Former President Barack Obama recently added “Mouth of Mouth” to his 2022 reading list. In LA-based author Antoine Wilson’s novel, the main character, Jeff Cook, is at an airport on a to talk to an anonymous narrator. Cook describes how he saved someone else’s life. He says he had no choice but to – he couldn’t let the stranger drown.
“He can’t escape this kind of cosmic connection that he saved a life, and there’s a reward to come,” Wilson says.
The anonymous narrator of this book is a struggling writer, while Cook is a successful art dealer. Wilson says there’s a high school reunion aspect to it, as the characters reunite after about 20 years.
“You see how one of them has been struggling all this time trying to get it started. And the other really just took the glass escalator to the top. So there is definitely a contrast there,” Wilson says.
The author himself saved a life in 1997. Wilson was visiting friends in Seattle when he came across someone wearing headphones and playing drums near a freight train, oblivious to its environment. Wilson caught the man’s eye just before the train passed.
“I stopped him and then the train passes, and he just looked at me, shocked. Like, ‘Oh my god, you saved my life.’ And then he said, ‘I’m going to buy you a big steak dinner.’ Well, then the train passed, and he just kept drumming and went.
Wilson never had his steak dinner.
Part of the inspiration for placing the book in the art world stems from personal experience – Wilson himself worked as a rare book appraiser in Los Angeles from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. knew nothing about contemporary art at the time, he just liked the idea of working with books. But the experience gave her a unique perspective on how money and art are irrevocably linked.
“All my art history training came from auction catalogs,” Wilson explains. “So I basically got, I think, a real education and an appreciation for art while having a price tag attached to everything.”
These days, he’s doing the job he set out to do: writing books. “Mouth to Mouth” is her third release to date.
Recognition from Obama is something Wilson never saw coming. He says no one on his team was told early that this would happen. He just woke up one day to several messages from his agent, his publicist, and people he knew on the East Coast.
“I have no idea how it happened. I’m super glad he picked up the book and liked it,” Wilson says.