Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Top 10 Hollywood Novels

For the freebie Top 10 Tuesday Web meme:

Top 10 Hollywood Novels

I'm listing my 10 favorite after reading Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures in 2012. I'm defining this genre as novels that involve significantly participants in the film industry, past or present, or have motion pictures as a strong, overriding theme. They're not listed in any particular order.

1. Day of the Locust: This classic Nathaniel West novel explores the underbelly of Hollywood, exposing the dream factory as another beachhead for cutthroat capitalism and mob rule.

2. The Age of Dreaming: A relatively unheralded novel about an Asian silent-film star whose early retirement and transformation into a recluse hinges on an increasingly racist California and a William Deems Taylor-like murder. Nina Revoyr's story works both as cultural criticism and a compelling story.

3. Beautiful Ruins: This 2012 Jess Walter novel is a hilarious look at the lives of people either involved in our caught up with the film industry. The action takes place in several times and places, but it mainly occurs in recent Los Angeles, World War II and in the early 1960s, when Cleopatra was being shot in Italy. The characters all have dreams that don't quite work out, but in a sense they do, because somethings what you dream about Hollywood-style isn't what you get or even really wanted in the first place. A wonderfully  entertaining and funny novel.

4. Late, Great Creature: A blast from the past, this overlooked gem involves a horror actor with a mysterious past, who finds a way to go out in style. A bizarre read, filled with raunchy sex, broad satire and a main character who will haunt your dreams.

5. Sunnyside: Glen David Gold's sweeping look at the end of World War I suggests that American movies, led by British auteur Charlie Chaplin, changed the world and was the real winner of the conflict, as society changed forever. It begins in a kind of fever dream, when nearly the entire country spots Chaplin in some fashion, then goes on to look at Chaplin's fascinating life as well as the lives of two other men, one caught up in the war in France and another sent to battle the Bolsheviks in the bitter cold of Russia. It all ends up having to do with the movies. It's one of those novels where you're glad it's more than 600 pages, because you want the stories to go on.

6. Miss Wyoming: I'm a Douglas Coupland fan, and although this may not be one of his most well-known novels, it's still funny and lightly likable. John Johnson is a decadent movie producer, and Susan Colgate is a former beauty pageant queen who found a way to disappear for a year. The novel, which is not told in chronological order, considers issues of fame, art and movie-making in his deadpan style.

7. Zeroville: One of the best novels I've read. Steve Erickson casts a mesmerizing spell in this novel about a bizarre victim of biblical childhood abuse who, after he gets an image of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor tattooed on his scalp,  becomes the perfect movie editor with an understanding of film that goes beyond what's on the celluloid. A character based on John Millius makes several appearances.

8. Where the Truth Lies: Rupert Holmes, of Mystery of Edwin Drood fame, writes a mystery that's a thinly ficitonalized account of the partnership of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Maritn comes off as something of a wimp, but the Lewis character is a bold, agressive, worldly character who acts crazy for the cameras but is something of a lothario. The narrator is a reporter trying to get to the bottom of a murder the parters were connected to at the height of their partnership, but the mystery is secondary to the backstage look at the popular duo, as well as movies and the VIP tour of Disneyland.

9, The Loved One: Evelyn Waugh's brief but nasty satire of British expatriates in Hollywood and the cemetery-crematorium at the center of the action. A young Brit acts so bizarrely (threatening to found a religion) that he convinces British Hollywood to send him back to England, and a young woman meets a tragic fate.

10. I'm Losing You: Bruce Wagner's bizarre, gritty, unwholesome and downright depressing journey into many lives in Hollywood, focusing particularly on the people off the screen -- a horrible producer, a guy who gets dead animals out from under houses, a fugitive child and many others. It's a depressing but fascinating mosaic of life on the fringes of Hollywood.

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