THE MAO GAME by Joshua Miller


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 Parent-child incest, strippers, heroin, cancer, and Hollywood, too. Actor and first-time novelist Miller doesn't miss a trick in this surprisingly well-written fictional memoir of a child actor adrift in the unreal world of movie-making. Himself a child actor and the son of a Playboy centerfold and Russ Meyer actress, Miller creates an alter ego, Jordan Highland, whose own mother is a successful actress--and also a former Playmate. More concerned with her son's diet than with his education, Jordan's divorced mother pushes him through his career even as it falters thanks to his excessive drug use. His real problem stems, though, from his football-coach father, a former NFL star whose parental visits since age five involve increasingly sick sex play, though Jordan is too afraid to tell anyone. At 15, Jordan's mother and grandmother play the card game of the title (characterized by its arbitrary set of rules) to determine who should have custody of the troubled teenager. His mother loses. And so, deep into drugs and keeping company with a 16-year-old stripper/dominatrix, Jordan goes to live with his grandmother, a famous Hollywood photographer (Miller's granddad was Bernard of Hollywood) who's dying of cancer. A French-Jewish refugee, the grandmother shares her grandson's pot and offers lots of candid sexual advice. Together, they travel into the Nevada desert, seek out illegal cancer drugs, and enjoy a farewell party on the Queen Mary. Hoping to bring mother and daughter together again, Jordan discovers the violent truth of his mother's conception. He also confronts his father, attempts suicide on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and witnesses his grandmother's final breath. Despite all the over- the-top behavior, mother and son manage to become reconciled by the close. Miller's unique Hollywood pedigree--his father is the actor and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jason Miller--must be what accounts for the authentic feel here. Even the craziest behavior seems believable in this artful re-creation of Hollywood's casual lunacy. (15 b&w photos, not seen) ($25,000 ad/promo)

Pub Date: June 4th, 1997
ISBN: 0-06-039185-5
Page count: 215pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997