Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsNovels

PERSONAL EFFECTS by Rex Reed (Arbor House: $17.95; 444 pp.)

February 23, 1986|Karen Stabiner | Stabiner's book about young girls trying to become stars on the professional tennis circuit, "Courting Fame," will be published next month by Harper & Row

Rex Reed's "Personal Effects" is a big candy box of a Hollywood novel--good for a quick sugary rush when ingested in small doses, but guaranteed to give you a bad case of mental bloat by the time you're through. The symptoms are a vaguely guilty, embarrassed taste in your mouth and a craving for something a bit more nutritious, like Nathanael West's "Day of the Locust."

It may be unfair to mention West's grim classic about the Hollywood fringe in the same breath as this cream puff--but ace Hollywood columnist Billy Buck, the narrator of "Personal Effects," says that the opening scene of the book is straight out of West, and so establishes a precedent for comparison. Three pages later, Gilda Greenway, great star of long ago, complains that today "the stars have no faces," just like Gloria Swanson did in "Sunset Boulevard." Buck, gossipmonger extraordinaire, wants us to know immediately that he's no superficial celebrity hack. This is a man who's read the significant Hollywood novels, knows his film history, and wants to be treated with respect.

Which makes Reed the Rodney Dangerfield of novelists: If this book is destined to become a classic, it's strictly of the kitsch variety. "Personal Effects" is a hoot, in the grand tradition of trashy Hollywood fiction, the kind of novel that keeps the word "sprawling" in the top-10 of book-reviewing adjectives. Reed unravels so many interlocking cliches at once that a diagram of the story would look like The Stack, the four-level intersection of the Harbor, Pasadena, San Bernardino and Hollywood freeways. He may be more adept at maneuvering his material than some--he has an instinct for the nice, tart detail--but it's still terribly predictable.

At the center of his tale is the murder of Gilda Greenway. There are four suspects, known to the press as the Four Fans, three girls and a boy who met Greenway, and whom she took under her wing, 25 years ago. You've met them, or their close relatives, in other books like this: Devon Barnes, a cross between Jane Fonda and Sissy Spacek, who spouts New Left homilies with a hominy twang; King Godwin, stud with a heart of gold; Inez Hollister Godwin, drug-ravaged victim of a sordid childhood and an equally sordid, but better-dressed, adulthood; and May Fischoff, a fat, repressed Jewish princess who grows up to be a sleek shark of an agent.

Any one of them could have done it, but they had too much to lose. The real murderer has nothing to lose; she's dying of, and so willing to kill for, envy. It couldn't have been one of the Four Fans. Reed and his alter ego have too much fun being on the inside to blame a big Hollywood star for murder, when there are so many more attractively titillating vices to pin on them.

In fact, the murder investigation is essentially an excuse to dish dirt, which is, after all, why people read novels like this one. A writer of fiction can dream up immense tabloidian scandals in a novel without worrying that a real celebrity is going to sue him for libel. After all these years of being limited to the truth, Reed has a field day, weaving sexual, pharmaceutical and professional intrigues from 1956 to the present. That he happens to humiliate a perfectly agreeable mutt named Lucky in the process is only an indication of how far the man is willing to go for his art.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|