Notorious button-presser Palahniuk is uncharacteristically tedious in this vicious, kitchen-sink send-up of postwar Hollywood, celebrity, pornography, PR, kitschy screenplays and all else connected to the star system. His narrator is Hazie Coogan, a Thelma Ritter-like maid and valet who facilitates the career of now-aging superstar actress Katherine Kenton. “Every movie star is a slave to someone,” says Hazie, who like many Palahniuk narrators has a duplicitous streak. Miss Kathie is hyper-vain, barbiturate-addled, and a collector of small dogs and husbands (soon to be “was-bands,” including a “faggot chorus boy,” “sleazy photographer” and “suicidal business tycoon.”) Childless, she even shops, take out-style, for babies to adopt.
The overall sordidness finds an anchor when the Miss’s latest “was-band,” Webster Carlton Westward III, is exposed as penning a “lie-ography” to be published when Miss Kathy fades to black. Hazie steals the text-in-progress — titled “Love Slave” — and begins reading it aloud, plunging the narrative into vaginal adventures of the extreme kind and mock Silver Screen puns (most at Lillian Hellman’s expense).
Palanuink has always wielded a sharp blade, but his Jonathan Swift Hollywood simply isn’t substantive enough to receive and absorb his prose’s swash-buckling pain. He tries compensating through exaggeration and mock cliché — “We’re only supporting characters in the lives of each other.” — but it’s mostly to no avail. This air, though dear to the author’s heart, is far too rare to care.