SLOW FADE by Rudy Wurlitzer


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Wurlitzer (Nog, Flats) describes the spiraling descent of Wesley Hardin, a Peck-inpah-like, hardboiled movie director. His current anarchic project is being taken away from him. His Canadian/Indian wife Evelyn is drifting off as well. His rolling-stone son Walker has returned from the Orient disoriented. And his daughter Clementine is lost somewhere in India among the saddhus and purification cults. A very serrated hanger-on, A. D. Ballou, toady-cum-singer-cum screenwriter, does some of the narration--which largely consists, in its configurational activities of gambling and drug-taking and sycophant-losing, of Wesley's various ups and downs in the manipulation/power-play game. There are glimpses of Wesley on the set, or throwing a video camera out of a New York hotel window; there's a film-script about searching for daughter Clementine written by Walker and A.D. (for money from Wesley). But whatever the forms of narration here, the prevailing color is grey, even ashen: it's a novel of stunning and slightly hybrid (Didion/Stone/Puzo) cynicism. Too much of the novel reads like a film Wesley Hardin might make, stuffed with overly profound dialogue. (""One option is to consciously bury yourself alive in a beautiful, incestuous patch of paradise such as this one. Although 1 strongly suspect that when you finally approach the angel of death all suntanned and distracted, you might find yourself in the coldest hell, such would be your accumulation of rage, fear, and remorse."") Worse yet, it concludes with a predictably redemptive flight into Newfoundland for soul-cleansing--which here seems, however, largely a matter of wardrobe changes: ""Changing into long underwear and woolen pants, he put on his new fur-lined boots and Hudson Bay parka and, taking a shotgun down from a rack over the door, he stepped outside."" Wurlitzer's most nagging problem, though, is that he's not quite able to get any of these characters to sharpen in the reader's mind. And, unlike the finest literary Hollywood fiction of recent decades (by, among others, Daniel Fuchs and Don Carpenter), this novel is buried too far down in its own initial disillusionment--failing to earn its enervating scorn, offering little energy aside from a certain hipness.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1984
Publisher: Knopf