Understanding the appeal of celebrity becomes a journalist’s mission after his girlfriend is stolen by his favorite star.
Max Lerner loved pop culture from the get-go. “[I]f it was on TV, I watched it.” Growing up in the New York suburbs in the 1980s, he worshipped action star Johnny Mars. He also worshipped his neighbor Samantha. The two became childhood sweethearts, despite Sammy’s more highbrow tastes. It seemed fated they would live together in the big city: Sammy the actress, Max the writer for KNOW, the prestigious news weekly. He gets the shock of his life when he learns from the tabloids that Sammy and Johnny, acting together in a New England stage production, have become involved and are soon to be married. When Max is assigned to the entertainment beat, he resolves to figure out this whole fame thing. Svetkey scatters Max’s interviews with movie stars throughout his first novel. As a former writer for Entertainment Weekly, he knows the territory, from the protocols on the set to the delicate massaging of celebrity egos: “avoid asking questions that require any serious thinking.” Max fumbles at first (an actress throws her food at him after he asks about her “infantile hermaphroditism”) but soon has the format down pat, as well as a key to the puzzle: Fame may be nothing more than clever marketing. The interviews are the best part of this engaging but underplotted work.
As long as he keeps a satiric distance from his material, Svetkey sparkles.