Dewi Lewis Publishing ($13.95)
by Jessica Hoffmann
Marty Moreno, erstwhile king of the sappy-sexy-love-song corner of pop music, is burning through a $2 million advance and his last shreds of self-respect in a Malibu mansion full of out-of-date costumes, fan mail, and assorted abusable substances. While Marty sinks, Jane Miller ascends: elaborate fantasies featuring a glistening and long-haired Marty Moreno wing her up and away from an unsatisfying marriage to a British corporate automaton. Hollywood and suburban London, Marty Moreno and Jane Miller, meet in the mail, in the movies, in the stories these particular desperates tell themselves in order to (half-consciously) live.
The supporting cast includes one red-faced and slack-bellied lackey, one short (read: Napoleon-esque) record-company exec, one routine-loving middle-aged husband, an Austrian shrink-to-the-stars who's still talking about a long-ago plagiarism suit he filed against his former mentor (guess who), and a temp receptionist who appears-large-breasted, miniskirted, and serving coffee-in Husband Miller's office just, as they sing in the standards, in time.
Most of the action takes place in Malibu, Hollywood, and a London suburb, with an extravagant climax-think colored lights, cheering-and-sobbing extras, and some gun action-in Las Vegas.
This novel's syncretic structure is ambitious. Martylove is told in letters, diary entries, screenplays, song lyrics, and fan-mag celebrity factsheets. The quick shifts between these modes make Martylove a quick read, and this speed effectively conveys the frenzy of desperation and the superficiality of fantasy-its falseness, its shallowness, its, um, TV-ness.
It's a rapid-fire narrative full of jump cuts and quick takes, and reading it feels, ultimately, not unlike watching two hours of television, particularly of the true-Hollywood-story or "women's channel" real-life-honeymoon variety. This is not because the author's a fantasy-maker himself-in fact, his palpable dislike of his romance-submerged characters leaves little room for the reader to enter into any kind of romance with, about, or inspired by them-but because he's chosen to put most of his narrative in the hands of his desperate dreamers.
We get Jane Miller via Jane Miller's love letters (aka fan mail) to Marty, as well as via drafts of her autobiography and screenplay. But Jane Miller, caricature of the bored housewife, does not happen to be a good writer. She'd probably earn a great living working for the aforementioned women's channel or any number of fan-mags, but great literature does not Jane Miller make. And when Marty's minder, Lance, rewrites his life as a screenplay, it's a B movie, no Mamet-influenced masterpiece. So, though Waterman does these caricatures well, page upon page of romance-novel or B-movie writing is, well, page upon page of romance-novel or B-movie writing.
When Waterman decides to let a real writer do the storytelling, he proves he's no Jane- or Lance-like hack. Suddenly, amidst the melodramatic and often periphrastic shallows of his characters' narratives ("fantasy and reality have finally and forever wed each other in the sight of Jane"; "Jane was in the bath. The water was cold, but Marty was hot!"), Waterman lets a "morning unfold in a blaze of sputtering activity," presents a moon "shining dumb-facedly," and charms with transitions that are both elegant and amusing: "Meanwhile, in Jane's head: . . ." Unfortunately, those moments are occasional glints on a surface that's otherwise dulled by perhaps-too-accurate representations of some notoriously cliché-heavy and insight-bereft genres.