A no less bitterly puckered but a more firmly focused book than A Flag for Sunrise
, the jaundiced eye here is upon Hollywood and movie-making, an atmosphere utterly (as is always the case with Stone, who is the great drug-plague chronicler of our literature) brain-blown and demoralized by cocaine. Gordon Walker is a toot-ruined screenwriter whose wife has left him, who has spent some numb weeks on stage as Lear (in Seattle); and who, at the end of his rope, gets the spectacularly bad idea of visiting the set of a movie he'd done the script for (a version of Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening), now being filmed in Mexico. It's an especially tragic idea because he's actually going to see an old love, the film's star, Lee Verger—and Lee's in no shape to handle him. She's in no shape to handle herself; her psychiatrist-husband and her children having left after a visit, Lee has decided to try to do the film while not taking her anti-psychotic medication, pills she must take if she is to keep at bay her palpable, visible-to-her demons, the "Long Friends" ("Never in her life had she seen the Long Friends so unafraid of sound or light, almost ready to join her in the greater world and make the two worlds one. Seeing them gathered around, shyly peering from between their lace-like wings, murmuring encouragement. . ."). Walker's arrival can only make her worse, make her descent steeper; and in his own cocaine-hell, he follows. Stone is at his most baroquely hyperbolic in the Walker/Lee Verger scenes. They speak a kind of oblique Scripture of the thoroughly damned, and build up together to a climactic primal scene of degradation and self-destruction, the kind of thing Stone seems usually to end his books with (not really successfully). There are bruises to some of the prose, a kind of mock-Chandler sentimentality, too: "She was always looking for the inside story. . . Maybe there was more to it, he thought. Maybe she cares." And yet Stone's genius is truly concentrated, in certain sections here, in what he does better than any other contemporary American: the ugly conversation. It's carried on almost exclusively by the various parts of the film-making crew, especially the talk of the callow, callous, amoralist director (who, though he absolutely knows better, insists on treating Lee Verger as an "halucineÃ‰," out to milk her madness of whatever will benefit the performance he seeks) and his retinue. They're a cast of gargoyles, the film crew, whom no other writer could probably get to talk more frighteningly, with more implicit horror. As one of them says passingly to another: "There are people at this table who can vulgarize pure light." It's one of the creepiest, most unredeemed of Hollywood novels. The central duo—Walker and Lee Verger—are a touch overblown—Lucia-like operatics, semi-innocents in the maelstrom—but the book always knows who its own "Long Friends" are: the ghouls on the set.
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