West Coast potboiler about a hapless New Jersey writer’s adventures in la-la-land.
Newark boy Frank Matthews is a fish out of water. The bright and ambitious progeny of an insane father and a social-climbing mother, Frank enrolled in a writing program and got it into his head to be a novelist. That was his first mistake. Then, spurning his uncle’s offer to deal him into the family’s dry-cleaning business, he fled Jersey for California, moving to Los Angeles to live with his aunt Clara, who offered nine months’ worth of room and board to help him get writing “out of his system.” Not making much headway on his novel in the land of bookstores called the Happy Booker and suburbs such as Trillion Oaks (the author tends to carry his West Coast parodies a bit too far), Frank is out for a walk one day on the Malomar Pier when he runs into Max Peterson, an old classmate from the writing program. Max is now a big success, having published a bestseller (City of Breasts) that has been optioned in Hollywood for a lot of dough, and he invites Frank to come to live on his Malomar estate. Frank thinks Max is a first-class blowhard and detests his writing, but he’s glad to get away from Aunt Clara and gladder still to be reunited with Max’s wife Magee, who was also a classmate—and an unrequited love of Frank’s. Malomar is an endless swirl of parties introducing Frank to a bizarre Gatsby-like set of poseurs and lunatics who deconstruct Rambo films and publish feminist tracts (Of Mice and Menstruation, etc.) for large advances and 22 minutes of fame. But, inspired by his rekindled love for Magee, Frank does start to make progress on his novel there, until she begins to return his affection. That proves to be a major distraction—along with the forest fires, earthquakes, and power outages that plague the region. Welcome to LA, Frank: You’ll never be the same again.
Amusing and amiable to a fault, but Murphy (The Hope Valley Hubcap King, not reviewed) has a deft, light touch.