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AMERICAN STAR; A Love Story By Jackie Collins (Simon & Schuster: $23; 624 pp.)

April 11, 1993|Richard Rouilard | Rouilard, former editor-in-chief of The Advocate, is senior editorial consultant to The Times. He is working on a murder mystery entitled "Die, Gay Publisher, Die."

"While 'American Star' contains descriptions of unprotected sex appropriate to the period in which the story is set, the author wishes to emphasize the importance of practicing safe sex and the use of condoms in real life."

--Author's Note

And so Jackie Collins enters the '90s with this caveat at the beginning of her 14th novel. Nonetheless, "American Star" is classic Collins, chock full of all the expected plot twists, fabulous cliches about stardom and Hollywood, and enough unprotected sex, sex, sex to make the caveat seem like a promotional gimmick. No one has as much sex as a Collins protagonist, regardless of the period. And Nick Angelo, one of the stars of "Star," has more sex, it seems, than the entire male cast of "Hollywood Husbands," the sequel to Collins's soaked-in-sex "Hollywood Wives."

The trash-and-flash genre (in which Collins should be considered second only to The Master, Jacqueline Susann; Judith Krantz is just too pissant) often relies on a time-honored formula: the meteoric rise of a handsome yet humble-backgrounded hero, who, midway through the novel, begins to be confronted by mega-success. After a necessary (and always temporary) fall from grace, the hero spots the error of his ways, about two-thirds of the way in, and finally conjoins with the beautiful yet humble-backgrounded object of his desire (who has been pining away since about page 100). In pre-Collins Hollywood, this was the good ol' boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl plot.

In 1993, this is "American Star."

Nick Angelo, junkyard dog ("his handsomeness was not perfect"), meets the object of his desire, Lauren Roberts ("one of the most popular girls in school") when he lands in a small town in Kansas with his beer-bellied, bigamist father, Primo, who moves in with one of his wives, a black woman, Aretha Mae, and her three children, Cyndra, Luke and Harlan. Watch Cyndra. Cyndra has "bigger ideas." She eventually decides, like Nick and Lauren, that she is going "to make something of her life, and nobody was going to stop her."

At page 100, Lauren is finally sharing a Coke with Nick after the high school play (in which Nick's talents are immediately recognized by the local impresario), and the pining away begins. Lauren very reluctantly becomes engaged to the Big Man On Campus, Stock Browning. But she is unable to resist Nick's advances and the pinings, so she sleeps with him: "Together they rocked the world--riding the roller coaster until it peaked on the highest point of all, pausing for several mind-blowing seconds before cruising smoothly all the way to stop."

At about page 200, the weather gets testy. Nick, unaware that Lauren is pregnant, leaves town moments before the worst tornado to hit Kansas since the "Wizard of Oz" nearly kills every character in the book.

Lauren, orphaned, ends up in Philadelphia. Nick, orphaned, ends up in Chicago. But destiny awaits them in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. Lauren takes up a career as an assistant at a modeling agency and within moments becomes the most sought-after person on Seventh Avenue: "And so they transformed her. Lauren Roberts, small-town beauty, was turned into Lauren, face of the moment." Lauren starts dating an older man, Oliver Liberty, the head of one of the most powerful advertising agencies in the universe. She becomes the world-renowned Marcella cosmetics girl.

Nick meets up with Cyndra in Los Angeles. Her singing career is going nowhere, and she has married a complete slimeball who manages to mismanage her inevitable rise to American stardom. When the slimeball tries to pimp Cyndra off to a traveling salesman in Vegas, Nick intervenes. The salesman is shot accidentally; the slimeball husband takes off; Nick and Cyndra bury the body, which becomes the veritable skeleton in everyone's closet for the rest of the book.

Nick and Cyndra achieve mega-success right on schedule: "Can you believe it, Nick--you and me? My record's taking off and your movie's a big hit. It's incredible." Indeed.

Two-thirds of the way through the novel, Nick marries an unsuccessful actress, who threatens to go to the police about the Vegas affair. Nick is miserable, thinking of Lauren constantly, drinking, being fellated day in, day out by nympho starlets. Lauren is miserable: Oliver, now her husband, is unable to do anything but perform cunnilingus. Cyndra is miserable: She is in love with the head of the record company, who is happily married. Her producer wants to marry her, but she can't--Vegas!

At this point it seems as though Jackie Collins has written herself into a corner. No one will be able to live happily ever after. But the Collins magic comes to the rescue in the last 50 pages. Everyone who is a bother dies. Nick and Lauren fly off, literally, into the sunset.

A good Jackie Collins novel is like a thoughtfully prepared bowl of vanilla pudding--tasty and comfortingly predictable. And this is a good Collins novel. All the flashier ingredients of the Jackie recipe are not included. Unlike almost all of her other novels, there are only two unnamed, guess-who-they-are celebrities in all of "American Star": "She had desperate eyes and bad breath." This could be so many people! The other unnamed celeb is The Most Powerful Agent in All of Hollywood. Oh, who could that be? There is, however, enough sex to satisfy even the most prurient Collins reader. And, true to her caveat, not a condom insight.

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