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The devil wears Dolce & Gabbana

The Twins of Tribeca A Novel Rachel Pine Miramax Books: 374 pp., $23.95 The Second Assistant A Tale From the Bottom of the Hollywood Ladder Clare Naylor and Mimi Hare Plume: 368 pp., $13 paper The Loves of a D-Girl A Novel of Sex, Lies, and Script Development Chris Dyer Plume: 352 pp., $14 paper How to Be Famous A Novel Alison Bond NAL Trade: 352 pp., $12.95 paper The Assistants A Novel Robin Lynn Williams ReganBooks: 304 pp., $14.95 paper Mr. Famous A Novel Carol Wolper Riverhead Books: 272 pp., $14 paper

June 26, 2005|Amy Wallace | Amy Wallace is the deputy entertainment editor for the Times' Business section.

It's tempting to turn "The Twins of Tribeca," the new novel about a junior publicist at an independent movie studio run by a pair of brash, badly behaved brothers, into an impromptu game of "Guess Who?"

Even without being told that the book's author, Rachel Pine, once spent three years as a publicist at Miramax Pictures, anyone with a passing knowledge of Hollywood will sniff out the roman a clef.

Easiest to identify are the fictional brothers, Phil and Tony Waxman, who are so obviously modeled on Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the co-founders of Miramax (dubbed Glorious Pictures in the book) that some of the details seem almost gratuitous. Phil is "huge," with "a tremendous head" and "fleshy face." Tony is "shorter," with hair that gives "the distinct impression that something might be living in it."

Movie buffs will enjoy decoding the titles of Glorious Pictures' hit movies. "The Foreign Pilot" is, of course, "The English Patient," which won Miramax its first Academy Award for best picture in 1996. "Pulp Fiction" masquerades as "Perp Friction," "Cinema Paradiso" is dubbed "Teatro Incantato" and "Sling Blade" goes by "Hacksaw."

People who work in the movie industry, meanwhile, will spot even more inside jokes. An actor named "Sean Raines" who insists his name be pronounced "Sheen"? That can't be anyone but Ralph "Call me Rafe" Fiennes. A prolific movie producer named "Stan Coburn" who has his assistants call huge numbers of people every morning "really early, before anyone is in, so that when that person gets to their office, they know Stan's already working -- even though of course he's not in yet, either"? The real-life producer Scott Rudin is notorious for doing exactly that.

But as vaguely amusing as it may be to wonder whether "Bob Metuchen," a "boy-wonder director" discovered at the Sundance Film Festival, is a reference to Quentin Tarantino or Steven Soderbergh, there is a far more nagging question raised by this chatty little book. If fiction for women is "chick lit" and guy novels are "lad lit," then what do we call this new crop of books about the tedious lives of low-level assistants who yearn to succeed in the entertainment industry?

Tinsel lit? Mailroom lit? Striver lit? Glick lit?

In 1941, Budd Schulberg's acclaimed novel "What Makes Sammy Run?" skewered Hollywood with its portrait of Sammy Glick, a plagiarist and huckster who climbed the studio system ladder "without a single principle to slow him down." Today's movie biz novels are far softer, with female protagonists who are as preoccupied with dating as with getting ahead. But what they lack in bite they make up for in numbers.

Lately, it seems, these books are everywhere. There's "The Second Assistant: A Tale From the Bottom of the Hollywood Ladder," and "The Loves of a D-Girl: A Novel of Sex, Lies, and Script Development." There's "How to Be Famous," a novel by a former assistant to an agent about (don't tell me!) an assistant to an agent and her fabulous friends. Meanwhile, "The Assistants," written by "a former assistant to the stars," is about "five miserable souls working in the city of the soulless -- Hollywood."

Of course, all the above owe their very bindings to "The Devil Wears Prada," the thinly veiled 2003 account of what sheer hell it is to answer the phone of Anna Wintour, the iceberg-like editor of Vogue. Clearly, publishers are hoping that the same readers who plunked down $21.95 to learn that Wintour eats the same thing for lunch every day will also want to read about what it's like, say, to work the door at a movie premiere after-party.

"My designated task for the next part of the evening was to stand near the curb with a headset and announce the arrivals to my colleagues," Karen, the narrator of "The Twins of Tribeca," tells us at one point. But even when the potential dangers of this work are explained (Karen helpfully recounts the "terrifying legend" of the publicity assistant at 20th Century Fox who once denied Rupert Murdoch -- the chairman of Fox's parent company, News Corp. -- entrance to a party), reading such anecdotes can be like watching paint dry.

Years ago, I flirted briefly with the idea of writing a pulp novel. Powered by the rumor that a college classmate had made a cool $75,000 dashing off a Harlequin romance, I sent away to the company for information and received a kit in the mail that established certain rules. The most important of these, other than that the love interest had to be American, was that the heroine should have a job but not a career. Make her too successful, the chirpy instructions implied, and two deal-killing things would occur: No man would plausibly fall for her and no reader would relate to her.

Considering the current Glick lit offerings, I began to think the authors had been issued a similar set of rules.

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