In actor, producer, and screenwriter Barnes’ debut novel, an aspiring young writer is seduced by Hollywood society life.
Conrad Arlington, a self-described “Last True Artist,” leaves his provincial hometown to move to Los Angeles and pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Later, he meets Gracie Garrison, a seasoned Hollywood socialite, with whom he immediately falls in love. Thus begins Conrad’s descent into what he calls “the great sickness,” as he finds himself helplessly trailing after the elusive Gracie to high-profile cocktail parties, iconic hotel bars, and lusty nightclubs along Hollywood Boulevard and beyond. In doing so, Conrad alternates between railing against himself for caving to his own foolishness and railing against Gracie for her superficiality, her secretiveness, and, most of all, the extent to which he’s crazy about her, in spite of it all. The longer he trails after her, the more determined he becomes to know her secrets, so Conrad tears through LA, drinking heavily, mining Gracie’s acquaintances for answers, and destroying relationships. These obsessional benders are interspersed with periods of forced isolation in which Conrad tries to reckon with his behavior and salvage his creative life. This novel gives readers a mildly intriguing behind-the-scenes peek at the glamorous, corrupting party culture of the Hollywood Hills. The tension between Conrad’s creative ambitions and the way in which love causes him to abandon them is what drives the novel. However, the curiosity that this tension will rouse in the reader is tepid, at best, as the narrator has an unrelenting penchant for arrogance, melodrama, and misogyny. His Hollywood is a sexist, clichéd dystopia in which women exist to accessorize male executives who pass the time draining decanters of scotch and scamming bright-eyed young creatives. Further, the prose is often hyperbolic (“I wanted to kiss her everywhere! Her eyelids! Her nose! Her cheeks! Her mouth! I wanted to see her fully, all golden and silver in the pressing darkness!”). For all the credit that Conrad gives himself for being “The Last True Artist,” he has a surprising lack of awareness of the inanity of his perceptions.
A melodramatic coming-of-age story with an offensive protagonist.