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The plot is pure Hollywood

Maneater: A Novel, Gigi Levangie Grazer, Simon & Schuster: 320 pp., $21.95

August 03, 2003|Jonathan Kirsch | Jonathan Kirsch, a contributing writer to Book Review, is the author of the forthcoming "God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism."

ONLY rarely does a touring author appear as a guest of Jamie White and Danny Bonaduce, the morning-drive-time shock jocks on Star 98.7 FM. When Gigi Levangie Grazer showed up to talk about her novel "Maneater," Jamie and Danny were less interested in her book than in the intimate details of her sex life and, above all, her lifestyle among the rich and famous as the wife of motion picture producer Brian Grazer.

Still, it was an appropriate gig for Gigi, because the heroine of "Maneater," Clarissa Regina Alpert, shares the same concern with sex and wealth that was evident in the radio interview. Clarissa admits to being 28 but is really 31. She grew up in the "relative impoverishment of the (Lower) Beverly Hills flats" and aspires to marry someone rich, famous, handsome and glamorous -- preferably Bruce Springsteen, but her wish list includes Hard Rock Cafe entrepreneur Peter Morton, producer Ted Field and Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter. "Her time line was clear," writes Grazer. "[S]he and her lucky husband would have two children within four years; she'd be divorced by 40 and still hot ... , and living the good life while the nannied, tutored, personal-trained kids attended out-of-state boarding schools."

To snag a man, Clarissa is perfectly willing to conceal or distort every detail of her nature and experience -- "her age, religion (Episcopalian at the Bel-Air Country Club, Jewish at Hillcrest), mating habits, hair color, plastic surgeries, level of education, her mother's nose job, her upbringing, her downfall, her rehab stay(s), the number of pregnancies she'd experienced -- three -- without an actual birth -- and that she lied to anyone at any time for any reason."

"And then," allows Clarissa, "there's a small part of me that wants to fall in love."

Clarissa, as it turns out, must content herself with a man who is merely rich and only "borderline attractive." Aaron Mason is a recent film school graduate with a club foot who is using his family's department store fortune to reinvent himself as a movie producer. "Maneater" is the story of how Clarissa stalks, corners and catches Aaron and of the various crises and complications that enliven their uproarious relationship. But the plot line, such as it is, turns out to be an excuse for a novel of manners about a certain generation of young women at a specific time and place in American pop culture: "the last vestige of the Generation Xers, suckled at the MTV teat, reared on designer labels, raised by Boomers who resisted growing up themselves."

"Maneater" is in the fine tradition of the trash novel, but Grazer displays a self-satirical edge not found in the works of, say, Jacqueline Susann. And while the book has its moments of deja vu -- there's a genetic link with "Bridget Jones's Diary," and Clarissa's musings often sound like the voice-over from an episode of "Sex and the City" -- the influence of Erica Jong is equally distinct.

"Los Angeles was known as the land of broken dreams (blah, blah)," Grazer remarks, in a truncated sentence that acknowledges the toolbox of commonplaces and cliches she draws upon. Indeed, she imitates the list making and brand-name dropping that decorate the work of so many of her contemporaries and rivals. "Jimmy Choos" seems to be her single favorite product reference, but she is also careful to point out that Clarissa wears a La Perla bra and thong panties and "Calvin Klein nude shimmer control top sandal toe nylons."

At its best moments, however, Grazer's own inventiveness is at work in "Maneater." Clarissa's girlfriends, known collectively as the Star Chamber, speak to each other in a kind of secret language. "A 'Jean Kasem' was known as a scary rich person in the Star Chamber catalogue of sayings," writes Grazer, who helpfully explains that "Jean Kasem was the blond, white version of Grace Jones married to small, dark, Billboard deejay Casey Kasem." She introduces a plot twist in the courtship and marriage of Clarissa and Aaron that comes as a genuine surprise. And she concocts an unabashedly sentimental and downright touching climax to her tale.

Along the way, Grazer brings her wry and often raw sense of humor to the enterprise. She writes with candor about Clarissa's mother's bathroom habits: "The problem was, her mother was hooked on a molten something called 'Dieter's Tea' -- it contained an enormous amount of 'natural' laxative, enough to clean out a 747 engine." A date with Aaron ends awkwardly: "Could vomit have diminished her chances at marital bliss?" True intimacy, according to Aaron, means that he stays the night after having sex, "and I'm still there for the Today show and eye boogers."

There's a telling moment at the end of "Maneater," but it appears in the author bio rather than in the text. Grazer, we are told, is "the original screenwriter of 'Stepmom,' which was made into the Columbia Tristar movie starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon." The movie rights for "Maneater" have already been sold to Mandalay Entertainment, and her previous book, "Rescue Me," is in development at Fox Searchlight. Nothing else is revealed about the author herself, except that she is married to Brian Grazer, lives in Pacific Palisades and has three children. It's a write-up that reveals precisely the same social and career anxiety that is so sharply satirized in the novel itself -- the obsessive concern with success as measured in terms of development deals and screenwriter credits. In that sense, "Maneater" is of Hollywood and not merely about it. Indeed, it is the author bio that the fictional Clarissa Alpert might have written about the real-life author who invented her.

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