FORCE MAJEURE by Bruce Wagner


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Note from Kirkus' Vintage Review Editor:

There’s a reason Christine Sneed chose a fictionalized Hollywood star as the heart of her new novel Little Known Facts: everything is magnified there; life is more epic in the inner-sanctum of celebrity. That inherent drama is one reason we love novels about Hollywood, and Bruce Wagner’s Force Majeure in particular. Wagner began his trilogy of acidic, satirical novels about Hollywood with this memorable debut. “This is superb stuff,” Kirkus’ reviewer wrote in 1991 when Force Majeure was first published, “the best yet about Hollywood's humiliated lower orders as they grasp at recovery programs or head for high-priced mental farms.” (We also love seeing an old review that mentions “outdoor phones” as if they’re some newfangled thing.)


Smashing debut novel in which screenwriter Bud Wiggin, a Thomas Wolfe for failed screenwriters, seems to be a stand-in for author Wagner--screenwriter of the stupid but successful Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills and Nightmare on Elm Street 3. Wiggin never achieves Wagner's modest triumphs, however: his scripts only blacken his standing in the Business. Force Majeure novelizes some high-class short stories about Wiggin that struck loving chords in Hollywood when published earlier: they join here with compelling density into one large arc of characterization as Bud falls from failure to total moral disaster. The episodes trace his horror story from script to floppo script, each chapter giving him one large antagonist to play against: giant studio-exec Joseph Harmon, who seduces Bud in Harmon's white Bentley convertible; aging genius Caitlin Wurth, Hollywood's most dazzling screenwriter, who has mental problems and makes endless, raging phone calls on outdoor phones and at last gives Bud her brilliant screenplay of Henry James's The Wings of the Dove for him to rewrite and sell as his own; Jerry Linley, alias the mystically wise Rav, a con man who grants himself a background as a Holocaust survivor and now believes it--and many other huge rascals. The darkly downbeat climax is intentionally unfilmable (Bud has fellatio with a 10-year-old girl), although Oliver Stone has already optioned Wagner's screenplay of the novel. Despite a lack of rising action and some verbal leaps that never find a foothold, this is superb stuff--the best yet about Hollywood's humiliated lower orders as they grasp at recovery programs or head for high-priced mental farms. Bud is magnificently memorable, his brain in flood with three-act scripts that rival Postcards from the Snake Pit, Miss Lonelyhearts, Sunset Boulevard or Look Homeward, Oscar. Richly done boffo winner.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 9780743268967
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1991


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