Gloss (The Hearts of Horses, 2007, etc.) presents moviemaking as anything but glamorous in this fictional memoir by an aging artist recalling his year as a movie extra/stuntman in 1938 Hollywood.
In a matter-of-fact, laconic, utterly authentic-sounding voice, narrator Bud Frazer describes the year he tried breaking into movies, as well as his childhood on a hardscrabble Oregon ranch and, to a lesser extent, the years after he left Hollywood to become an artist. Part of Bud’s charm is his own distrust of his memories, so readers forgive the old man (and by extension Gloss) for Bud’s tendency to ramble and repeat himself. Four years after his undemonstrative but loving family was rocked by his younger sister’s accidental death, barely 19-year-old Bud was working as an itinerant ranch hand in Oregon when he decided to head to Hollywood and become a movie cowboy. On the long bus ride south, he sat beside Lily Shaw, whose ambition was to write screenplays. Almost from the start, Bud makes it clear that while he and Lily would never be more than friends, their friendship was crucial to him while they were in Hollywood and has remained important long since their paths diverged. Lily began a slow rise from secretary to reader to writer while Bud’s first job at a barn supplying horses for low-budget films segued into work as a cowboy stuntman. The elder Bud looks back and second-guesses choices he made as a kid. But even as he drank and partied with a fast crowd, he continued attending movies with Lily once a week. While Lily persevered past her disillusionment to become a successful writer, Bud’s experiences on movie sets—the novel is brimming with instances of brutality to horses and their riders—made him realize Hollywood was not for him, and he moved on.
Don't expect a neatly structured plot, but the acute sense of time and place, coupled with a cast of characters drawn with unsentimental but abiding affection, makes for a hypnotic read.