Friday, May 21, 2010

Hollywood Exposed

By Chip Schrader
Book Review Editor
Bestselling author Chuck Palahniuk is best known for his novel “Fight Club,” which was adapted into a cult film fueled by gratuitous violence shot at a dazzling pace. His signature style is disjointed and involves characters living lives of depravity and profanity, so it was only a matter of time he’d be tackling the golden era of Hollywood. “Tell-All” is Palahniuk’s latest release set in a Hollywood when everything is left up to the imagination, including the lives of the stars. Those unfamiliar with his work might have seen his name during his stop at Portsmouth’s River Run Books two weeks ago reading from this book.
The first chapter depicts bizarre imagery that establishes the grotesque tone and characterization that resonates throughout the book, it is a scene from the play that is to reignite the career of the main character. The narrator Hazie Coogan is actress Katherine “Miss Kathie” Kenton’s assistant, who insists her life’s purpose is to preserve the actress’ glamour and glitz, although the reader might find the assistant herself has objectified this woman into a sort of walking and breathing shrine. The Chanel No. 5, cosmetic surgery addictions, and spouse hopping brings the reader to recall Mommy Dearest, Sunset Boulevard, and Elizabeth Taylor.
As with all social criticism, this book uses yesterday to put a mirror to today’s climate. As we see the nauseating use of pills, cosmetics, eating disorders, and promiscuity, we see clearly the reigning Queens of the TMI (or TMZ) generation: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears, to name a few.
As this book review generously drops names, Hazie and Miss Kathie drop names like a German blitzkrieg. Palahniuk’s name dropping continually jars the reader from catching the torrid storyline revealing that the best weapon in a speaker’s arsenal is distraction. All through, there are little goings on and descriptions that are worthy of shudders and cringes, but the bold referencing of Walter Winchell or Lillian Hellman immediately jerks the mind away from the unsavory imagery.
The second half of the novel focuses on the graphic love affair depicted in Webster Carlton Westward’s own tell all book that Miss Kathie seems to find handily as each revision shows a different grizzly demise for Miss Kathie. As her paranoia ensues, her career seems to get a second wind with the bizarre play of Miss Kathie playing Lillian Hellman fighting in WWII. All the while, Webster goes ragged with the ongoing domestic battles.
The prose is rugged with ideas and side notes interjected with a kaleidoscopic narration that weaves between a personal account and a faux screenplay that plays heavily with symbolism, wordplay and satire. This is not unusual for Palahniuk as he carries on the legacy of Kurt Vonnegut’s brand of shock satire, as his style and influences are best likened to Fusion Jazz. The wrongly attributed quotes and mistranslations are hilarious as the words seem to mock everything, including themselves, but also construct a very serious dialog about the roots of contemporary culture.
Photo caption: Cover of “Tell All” by Chuck Palahniuk. (Courtesy photo)