Money may wander but attention never strays in this comic debut.
Dezenhall (Nail’ Em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses, not reviewed) nimbly skewers the Internet, journalists, politicians, and public relations spinmeisters and their power to dupe huge numbers of people. He starts with p.r. rep Jonah Eastman, a Beltway pollster, who takes on client Mario Vanni, an Atlantic City mob boss who seeks to clean up his reputation and so snare a casino license. Probing focus groups to find out what issues might move people to back the don of the Jersey Shore, Eastman hears them speak poignantly about fears of local crime. He thereby creates DELVAC (Delaware Valley Anticrime Coalition) and gives it a Web site, which he uses to boost Vanni’s image as a family guy who wants to keep drug-dealers away from his kids. Eastman boldly fakes a scene, viewable on the site, of two thugs beating up a drug-dealer, who is really an actor from a Wilmington theater troupe. Also on the site, Eastman creates a “Flackenstein,” a nonexistent druglord named “Automatic Bart.” “Evanjournalists” (reporters who “don’t check . . . just run with whatever sounds good”) parlay the Net information into news stories that suggest antidrug Vanni ordered hits on Bart’s dealers. Soon the carefully groomed, thoroughly rehearsed, periodically Xanexed Mr. Vanni, his popularity soaring, goes to Washington to tell a congressional committee what to do about crime. Stunned silence, which Eastman terms “antiapplause,” greets Vanni’s nuanced performance. Vanni gets the license. Eastman, himself the grandson of a mafiosi, is left wondering about his own character. His nice, fuzzy romance with a musician from New Jersey (in this treatment, a place of charm) and his keen sense of good and bad people (and their use and abuse of the King’s English) suggest he’s a guy with depth.
Thoughtful, unpretentious, filled with laugh-out-loud funny scenes and delightfully realized characters. Place your bets on this winner.