This Memorial Day weekend got kind of a lazy start thanks to too much fun at Friday night's Kills/Horrors show, plus visions of hot dogs and burgers kept dancing through my head. Good thing that LA Times made my work easy -- The headline "A Novel With LA Cliches" stared me right in the face when I sleepily picked up Saturday's Calendar section.
Literary critic Mary McNamara's as annoyed with LA stereotypes as we are in her review of Jennifer Steinhauer and Jessica Hendra's Beverly Hills Adjacent:
It's pilot season and Mitch Gold, a working actor, is again driving his wife June, a UCLA poetry professor, crazy. This is a terrific setup -- pilot season is a true only-in-L.A. situation (unlike traffic, smog and plastic surgery, which have become depressingly universal)... Unfortunately Hendra (who is married to actor Kurt Fuller) and Steinhauer run this fun premise through a very familiar wringer, giving us clichéd potshots and an over-abundance of anecdotal
Love how she just knocks those well-worn cliches right out of the way and moves on. Who has time when so many of the old standbys are featured right in the novel? The best is her recognition of my not-seen-in-a-while personal stereotype fave, LA's Dark Underbelly:
The Hollywood novel was, of course, built on the rather pleasing revelation that the glamorous, with their lovely faces, swell cars and swimming pools, are in fact insecure, narcissistic loony toons, made so by the corruptive force of the industry. But while this was news for Nathanael West, Evelyn Waugh and even Michael Tolkin and David Freeman, it is decidedly less so now.
That's what we've been saying, Mary McNamara! It's too bad these writers have succombed to such an apparently bad case of LA stereotype-itis, because McNamara does like a lot of things about this book:
The most frustrating thing about "Beverly Hills Adjacent" is that the writing is so consistently good, at times lyrical, and there are some very funny scenes and memorable characters -- June's many automotive mishaps, Mitch's encounters with the playwright who once stalked him but is now super-hot in Hollywood, his rivalry with another actor who is invariably also up for his parts, all of which makes a reader wish very hard that Steinhauer and Hendra had done a better job of ignoring formula and written what they actually know. Not predictable "Tinseltown" anecdotes and marketable versions of people they've met, but what they've actually learned from living in Los Angeles. Because, like it or not, Hollywood is more than just a collection of egos jockeying for power and money, just like a novel is more than just a set of scenes.
Right. People who live here should know better. Steinhauer's a New York Times bureau chief (why am I not surprised?) and Hendra's a memoirist daughter of a memoirist (a somewhat depressing seeming one, to boot) -- are we really to believe they never meet literary types or people with depth out here?
Eh, I can't rail any more; I've got sausages to grill with interesting, educated people in lovely weather. But Mary, call us! We're definitely on your side with this one.