Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Review: "The Hollywood Trilogy" by Don Carpenter
For the third year in a row, I picked up a Don Carpenter book and it has blown me away. Not only has he blown me away with his storytelling ability, the intense depth of his characters and razor-sharp dialogue, but I am very, very impressed that of the three books of his I have read (five really), each one is so very different of the other. First, back in 2014, I picked up Hard Rain Falling; his book about the relationship between two young criminals in Portland, and feel it is the best book about American prisons I have ever read. Last year, I read his unfinished novel Friday’s at Enrico’s, about a group of writers finding varying degrees of success in their careers. It is a very honest take on the creative life, doing away a lot of the romantic ideas of being a starving artist and instead focusing on the hard work, disappointment and personal growth that comes with such a lifestyle. And now, his omnibus edition of three novels called The Hollywood Trilogy, made up of the novels A Couple of Comedians, The True Life Story of Jody McKeegan and Turnaround, is one of the definite Hollywood books I have read. Each one captures the dreamlike qualities of Hollywood, from the euphoric to the nightmarish and the people who have cozied up to success, with little intention of sharing, and those at the bottom, who are willing to do anything to realize their dreams. The first book in this collection is A Couple of Comedians, which is the second one chronologically, and tells the story of a comedy duo, made up of Jim Larson and David Ogilvie. Told from the perspective of Ogilvie, the straight man in real life but the clown in the movies, it charts the rise the duo, who frequent big-wig parties, lust after women and try to get a movie off the ground, with many surprising and expected events getting in the way. The True Story of Jody McKeegan, the first book chronologically whose eponymous character makes cameos in the two other books, focuses on Jody, who grows up in a severely broken home with a delusional mother, her drunk father and dishonest stepfather and her sister Lindy, who is nice and caring towards her, but is naïve and horribly misguided. Her childhood marks her relationships with men in Hollywood, as she, through pure luck, finds herself cast in a supporting role of a film noir. Finally, Turnaround, the most purely Hollywood of the novels, focuses on three people, an old studio head and his younger counterpart who wants his job, and a fresh-faced screenwriter who dreams of making a living through his writing. What makes these books so great and so memorable are Carpenter’s skill at creating lasting and symbolic scenes, from the death of David’s grandfather and ghoulish burial, to a not so subtle scene where Jody kills a June bug, and the many infidelities that happen in Errol Flynn’s cabin. This world Carpenter describes is unlike anyplace else. It can be the most wondrous place or the most soul-crushing, as many characters find out when they fall in love with the wrong people. It all depends on your quality of luck and opportunities as well as your willingness to go on after utter failure. These books, and the other two books that are easily available, show a writer at the height of his skill, free of genre constraints, showing a world filled with equal amounts of despair and wonder.