Amid tropical wilds on an imaginary reality-TV show, screenwriters of assorted skill levels and persuasions do what they do best—endlessly, shamelessly promoting themselves while perfecting their pitches—in this imaginative, if far-fetched, screwball comedy.
Set in a heightened version of the media-besotted present, the new novel by Maffei (And of the Holy Ghost, 2010, etc.) pits multiple crews of aspiring screenwriters against one another in fierce competition for the Big Prize—getting their screenplay produced. It’s American Idol crossed with Fantasy Island, by way of Gilligan’s Island, with perhaps a touch of Nashville. The author gleefully plays with stereotypes of gender, race and nationality, giving most of his sparrows—the ostensible contestants (there may be more going on with the reality TV show than meets the eye)—the monstrous ambition and cartoonish egos necessary for would-be players in Hollywood. There’s plenty of sex (mostly consensual, some polymorphous perverse) and drugs (booze and lots of “tea,” but only a whiff of coke) to keep the sparrows busy in between bouts of ostentatious cleverness and somewhat contrived showdowns, but no rock ’n’ roll to speak of; it’s all jazz and show tunes on set. Cinematic references abound: the participants natter on amusingly about their favorite films, and the heaps of sly allusions to the industry and its alpha dogs (real and imaginary) help keep the reader engaged—even as the almost random plotting runs amok over the course of the book’s three sections. Backstabbing, behind-the-scenes power brokering and gleeful betrayals keep the pacing lively. Add an ending that’s a mash-up of The Apple (sans disco) and A Chorus Line (without the dancing), and you get a quaintly surreal pop-culture trip that’s wittily self-conscious, sexy and assured. The only thing lacking is a delightfully silly mockumentary available to watch instantly on Netflix.
An outrageous, deftly crafted send-up of Hollywood.