A straight, short comic novel by Westlake, being neither mystery nor adventure but ending in doppelganger melodrama. Westlake. as in his chuckle-and-a-giggle High Adventure (1985), enjoys a druggy setting, and the sacred monster of his present work is a wacked-out Jack Nicholson, herein called Jack Pine. Westlake has taken one thin face of Nicholson (the one in black glasses at the Academy Awards), blown that sinister aspect into the full character, and shown the man behind the glasses to be a 1.5-volt, carbon-brained numbskull. The plot recaps Jack Pine's life and movie career as he lies by his pool, fractured on pills, needles and alcohol, and gives his story to a man he thinks is a reporter. Jack's story is simple: he has been led around by the nose and repeatedly cuckolded by his best friend, a guy he "ate sand with," Buddy Pal. Buddy Pal combines "Harry the Rat with Women" (Nicholson's role in Carnal Knowledge) with Warren Beatty's vapidly clever con man in the Nicholson-Beatty flick The Fortune. But Buddy Pal doesn't register strongly: he just functions. Buddy Pal gets Jack his first sex at 15 back in Grovers Corners. But Jack loses more than his virginity to back-seat Wendy: he loses his freedom to Buddy, who thereafter acts as his elder twin brother, and what belongs to Jack belongs to Buddy. Before the end, Buddy has robbed Jack of everything possible—his lighter, his money, his sweaters, his car, his wives, and lastly his identity. This could have been a classic original had Westlake the courage to do Nicholson straight instead of as a Rich Little/Peter Sellers impersonation. Jack Pine's blasted brain only diminishes, never enhances the sacred monster he lampoons, although Westlake does hit many Pine/Nicholson tones, gestures and gabblings just right, and has clearly done in-depth research on his VCR. And Jack Pine's Mom and Dad are hilariously shrink-wrapped American zombies.
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