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.