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THE CHRYSANTHEMUM PALACE by Bruce Wagner

THE CHRYSANTHEMUM PALACE

By Bruce Wagner

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-4339-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A recovering addict, an egomaniacal actor with daddy issues, and an underperforming wannabe make for a particularly LA dysfunctional trio.

At some point soon, we’ll be seeing Wagner (Still Holding, 2003, etc.) writing sitcoms for the WB, but they’ll be the smartest sitcoms that network will have ever seen. Although they share a love/hate of Tinseltown, Wagner’s novels have been slimming down and toning up as their prose evolves from expressing a densely layered and fantastic sensibility to broadcasting on a more realistic and accessible wavelength. Here, the writer has set up a fairly conventional (for him) cast of characters: Bertie Krohn, an actor on a Star Trek–like TV/film franchise created by his dad who dreams of running his own show someday; Clea Freemantle, a once and future druggie and childhood friend of Bertie’s, who finagles her a spot on the show; and Thad Michelet, a manic sort of Robin Williams comic actor oppressed by the fame of his father, literary lion “Black Jack” Michelet. Good and bad intentions alike get badly misconstrued, and some rather ugly family secrets get dragged out into the open against a backdrop of quintessentially Wagnerian Hollywood, rife with hypocritical self-absorption. All the characters are straining to better themselves: narrator Bertie tries to bang out some semblance of a show to pitch to HBO, that mecca of popular quality product; Clea just wants to keep her life from falling into a druggy pit; and Thad fights his way out of Jack’s shadow by publishing some poorly received novels. Thad is an impressively obnoxious character, a pun-spewing ADD pit of insecurity who whips everyone around him into his self-destructive frenzy. All that Bertie, Clea, and the reader can do is hang on and try to make sense of it all. Although Wagner is smart enough to keep the enjoyably soapy story short, the inevitable high-drama conclusion does prompt some longing for the apocalyptic surrealism of his earlier fiction.

Smart, high-gloss slur of fame, drugs and the fateful weight of family.