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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Two Tales of Hollywood

The Comeback by Ella Berman 
Published by Berkley ISBN 9780593099513
Hardcover, $26, 376 pages

A Star is Bored by Byron Lane
Published by Henry Holt ISBN 97881250266491
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages

I recently read two novels set in the world of Hollywood- Ella Berman's The Comeback and Bryon Lane's A Star Is Bored. After reading these two intriguing books, I'm not sure that I'd want a career in Hollywood.

What sets Berman's novel apart is the strong first person narration of the story. It begins with 23 year-old Grace Turner being recognized by a fan in the CVS store where she is picking up her mother's diet pills. Grace is known as Grace Gold, teenage star in director Able York's most successful movies. 

Grace was discovered by York as he was looking for a young teen to star in his movie. He brought Grace and her parents from their home in London to Hollywood, where he convinced her parents that he could make Grace a star- and he did.

York became her mentor and she became his muse. She bought her parents a home in nearby Anaheim, but became estranged from them as she appeared in all of Able York's movies over the years. He became a celebrated auteur, and she was his muse. She did the whole young Hollywood thing- drinking, drugs, marrying young.

Able and Grace had a falling out, and Grace's latest attempt in film without Able left her confidence shaken. She slunk back to her parents, where she has been hiding out for a year, eating dinner on TV trays with them and hiding from life outside.

Able is set to be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award and Grace is asked to to present it to him. She sees this as an opportunity to tell the world what happened between them, but does she have the strength to do so?

Grace's voice is so vivid in this intensely personal story. We see Grace as her star is rising, and the aftermath of her destructive behavior. Moving back and forth in time gives this story a jarring juxtaposition, letting us in on Grace's state of mind. Given the reckoning in Hollywood recently, this is a timely story. I recommend The Comeback, and look forward to Ella Berman's next book. The Comeback was a recent Read With Jenna pick.

Bryon Lane had a job as an assistant to actress Carrie Fisher, and in the write-what-you-know line, his novel A Star Is Bored tells the tale of Charlie, a young man who longs to leave his job on the overnight shift at a local television news station. He gets the opportunity to become the personal assistant to Kathi Kannon, daughter of a Golden Age of Hollywood star, and a star in her own right, having created the role of Priestess Talara in the worldwide phenonomon series of science fiction/action movies. 

Kathi has a drug problem and suffers from bipolar disorder. She has wild mood swings, spending days in her bed alternating with expensive shopping sprees and trips to Vegas. She gives Charlie a highly inappropriate nickname (she needs her own Human Resources Department), and he is charge of waking her each day with her medications and Diet Coke.   

Charlie organizes Kathi's life (the label maker gets quite a workout), and spends a lot of time keeping her out of trouble and on track writing the book she has already spent the advance money on. As difficult as she is, she is also raucously funny, and there is never a dull moment with Kathi. They form a friendship, but as anyone who has dealt with a drug addict knows, that bond gets tested. Charlie discovers that his life is not his own, but belongs to Kathi, day and night.

A Star is Bored is hilarious, and also moving. Kathi and Charlie have a sweet relationship until they don't. Kathi's mom (the Debbie Reynolds doppleganger) fiercely loves her daughter, but all her efforts to help and protect her don't work. 

If you have read Carrie Fisher's memoir Wishful Drinking or saw the HBO version of the stage show based on that, you will get an extra level of enjoyment from this endearing novel. I recommend it.

Hollywood is a tough place people.

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