Harper, £6.99, ISBN 0-00-714185-8
Contemporary Fiction, 2002
Carried away by the success of their previous anthologies Girls’ Night In and Girls’ Night Out/Boys’ Night In, the War Child patrons have put together the latest – and biggest – anthology of theirs for the time being. Yes, at least £1.00 will go to the War Child foundation for every book sold, and some kids in wartorn countries will be happier for it.
And this time, there are almost 45 – yes, 45! – pieces of contributions. If you look closely at the roster of authors, you may even be surprised: Joan Collins, Anthony Stewart Head (formerly Rupert Giles of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Kate Moss (I didn’t even know she can write… oh, ghostwriter, you say?), Boy George, Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef), and more celebrities, has-beens-turned-infomercial stars, and TV personalities also contribute their literary gems here.
That’s the good news. Now the bad news?
Remember how they always say that celebrities should never overestimate their abilities? How celebrities should stick to what they do best – act pretty and shut up – and nothing more? The world cringed in horror when Bruce Willis decided that he was a singer, while Germany is forever disgraced with its love affair with David Hasselhoff’s pop horror albums. While none of the pieces here are as bad as those examples above, it’s still bad enough.
Especially when most of them are just one-page affairs, more often than not a list of how-to’s for a Big Night Out. No thanks, Joan Collins, I don’t think I want to look like you on my big night out. I keep rereading her list, because I’m sure “Item Number 6: Do a good plastic surgeon for free nips and tucks” should be in the list somehow, but maybe the editor and Ms Collins’s agent have zapped that one out.
And I don’t need to know (at last count) six has-been pop acts’ “Best Songs to Play at a Party” list, thanks very much.
And Anthony Stewart Head’s guide to margaritas bewilders me because it’s pretty incoherent, as if he has cranked this out in between too much margaritas. Although, the slightly amusing suggestion on a new use of the Buffy action figure in the closing paragraph redeems things a little.
Jamie Oliver’s hangover breakfast and Boy George’s hangover drinks (all recipes) are okay, because at least these guys know what they are doing, and hangovers can be pretty nasty anyway.
The main problem of this anthology is that it has been taken over by glim-glam and bing-bings. I am hard pressed to find any actual story, much less a story worth remembering (most of what little that’s left are painfully formulaic chick-sh… er, chick-lit nonsense anyway).
Marian Keyes’s Wishing Carefully is a sweet, simple love story about heroine Kate’s search for the perfect replacement of her ex-boyfriend Mark. Kate is living a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves story without her knowing it as she dates men that are the equivalent (in personality) to Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy (a coke fiend, just hilarious), and Happy. This is actually sweet despite Ms Keyes’s desperate attempts to do the cynical thing. Kate is as dumb and codependent as they come, because we know smart women like Marian Keyes don’t believe in romance – they just make money off the cynicism like, well, cynical parasites.
Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, of The Nanny Diaries fame, must be really drunk or high when they wrote their incoherent and rambling piece. I still have no idea what Cinderella Gets a Brazilian is all about, I just have a vague idea that it is a first-person description of a woman running up and down and left and right until she crumbles into a hysterical puddle before Mr Right. Weird.
Karen Moline’s Ready for My Close-Up is one of my favorites. An adulterous couple on a Jamaican getaway; their spouses are at home, blissfully unaware of what Max the director and the heroine, his personal assistant, are actually doing in sultry old Jamaica. Then the heroine is approached by locals to star in porno movie with a couple of hunky workmen. This story successfully captures several different subjects that are normally taboo in conventional romances – the attraction of a white woman to a dark-skinned man, the complex emotions behind a no-strings-attached affair, and the darker side of the emotion called love. I like it. It’s interesting and it’s honest in its cynicism.
But nothing beats my favorite two stories. The first is Adele Lang’s Do You Know Who I Am?, a faux autobiographical account of a really deluded pop/movie star who, upon being approached by War Child for a contribution to this anthology, walks around for a few days with a Dictaphone in hand as she babbles her “gems of wisdom”. It’s frantically funny that I double over laughing until every part of me hurt. Here’s her opening entry in her “journal”:
I am attempting the very tricky task of speaking into this Dictaphone, for the benefit of my ghostwriter, while slumped face-forward over one of the many toilet bowls I now own, and wondering why the view down there remains the same whether you’re disgustingly rich and famous or not… It doesn’t seem fair really… I mean, I drink a much better quality of alcohol these days, and the toilet’s a genuine antique – and you’d think that at those prices the lid would be non-stick.
How about this one?
[rustling of newspaper] You know, even if, say, I really was a fame-hungry home-wrecking bitch, I am only human and personal comments on the amount of Botox I’ve been doing recently really, really hurt… [starts sobbing]
And don’t get me started when this darling finds herself caught in a cross-fire between angry terrorists and a foreign dignitary and other hilarious nonsense. There are times when I wonder if this is Cintra Wilson writing under a pen name – the way Ms Lang rips apart the bimbohood of a really oblivious self-absorbed cosmetically-enhanced superstar is so bitchy, mean-spirited, and hilarious that I just can’t fight it. Can’t stop laughing.
If I need a reason to love the acerbic stand-up comedienne Jenny Eclair’s tale of adultery, obesity, and junk food in ‘Modern Misdemeanours of Cocks and Calories’/Whatever Gets You through the Day, here is one. Warning – don’t read if you are eating or has just eaten something substantial. And it’s pretty R-rated, so please, don’t let Mommy and Daddy catch you reading this.
As soon as Simon had ripped the socks from his feet he started to throw food at her. Hummous slapped against her calf, baked beans tangled in her hair, cream cheese and maraschino cherries adorned the Everest of her left breast, whilst taramasalata and pimento stuffed olives decorated the Matterhorn of her right breast. She writhed in pleasure; her hand went to her belly and massaged a lake of Greek yoghurt into a dollop of chocolate spread. He flicked tinned raspberries at her and bid her to turn over, the bedsprings the only thing complaining. She rolled over and he plastered her backside with pastrami and cheese from a tube. As he wrote his name in Primula on her shoulder, like a tattoo, she reached round and grabbed him, pulling him down onto the plastic and together they rolled around in a billion-calorie heaven.
Mind you, this is not a Slam the Fatties hour – while the two slim, pretty spouses of each of the two fatties above cheat on them, they have no idea that the fatties here having their special brand of afternoon fun, lovingly described above. The joke, in the end, is on the skinnies.
Anyway, that’s what I call a brilliant masterpiece, really. Just brilliant, even if I can’t look into the canned food cabinet in the kitchen without feeling mildly ill (especially when I look at those cans of baked beans) for the next two days.