by Cintra Wilson, contemporary (2005)
Perennial, $13.95, ISBN 0-00-715457-7
If you are not aware of who Cintra Wilson is, she's an occasional columnist well-known for her cutting wit and scathing commentaries on anything and everything Hollywood. Her collection of essays published in 2000 as A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined As A Grotesque Crippling Disease is hilarious and often too accurate. However, she is not saying anything new that people don't know about fame and celebrityhood, it's how she says it that makes her a fun read. The same praise - or criticism - can be levelled at her debut fiction novel, Colors Insulting To Nature, which is pretty much a novelization of her essays in A Massive Swelling (minus the Russian gymnasts, that is).
Liza Normal is our heroine and when she is introduced in the story, she is a very ordinary ten-year old whose talent in singing, dancing, or acting is best described as unspectacular. However, her stage mother Peppy believes, after emerging from a drunken binge and believing the movie Fame as gospel, that Liza can and will be a superstar if Liza wishes for fame hard enough and Peppy pushes her even harder. Even Liza's humiliating debut on stage that results in her ocstracization in high school doesn't daunt Liza or Pepper. From Liza's failed attempt to be some jailbait sexpot thirteen-year old Barbra Streisand wannabe (American Idol 4 reject Mikalah Gordon, take note) to failed love affairs with former boy band members to drunken haze to drug binges to rehab blues, Liza's story is chronicled with dark and sardonic humor typical of the author's acerbic style. Throughout it all, Liza just keeps chasing after the elusive dream of being a superstar, crashing and rebounding with style in the meantime.
Towards late in the story, Liza's behavior becomes so repetitious in her cycle of crash and burn that I find myself losing patience with her. I'm not sure about the somewhat happy ending which feels like a bone given to the reader after enduring Liza's mess with her, but the afterword has Ms Wilson revealing that if she can find a semblance of peace after her own sojourns in Hollywood, she'd like to believe that Liza can as well. I guess that's alright then since I really like Liza as a main character. She can be self-absorbed to the point of irritating me at times but she has no malice in her. She really believes that she can make it as a star if she tries one more time because fame is waiting for her just around the corner.
Interspersed in this story at regular intervals are the author's own mini-essays on the quirks and pitfalls of fame that are relevant to whatever Liza is experiencing at that point in the story. While these are often comedy gold and enjoyable to read, I find that they often intrude in the flow of the story and are a little too much of a "Look at me, am I not so smart and insightful?" gesture from the author's part. Why not leave those to a second collection of essays or insert them more seamlessly into the story?
Colors Insulting To Nature has a fortune trove of meta-jokes for fans of the 1980s music and movie scene as well as for anyone who appreciates the silly and sometimes stupid things people do when it comes to idolizing fame and fortune. I especially like how Liza eventually finds a little of what she is looking for via the slash fanfictions that she writes.
While Ms Wilson is not making any new or insightful satire or parody of people's constant pursuit of fame, Colors Insulting To Nature is a hilarious laugh-out-loud book that captures the darker moments of Liza's life with humor that manages to be cutting without being too mean-spirited or misantrophic. If you are looking for an antidote to Carrie Fisher's increasingly humorless diatribes against fame and Hollywood, or just a good laugh and a good time, Cintra Wilson's debut will do very nicely, I suspect.
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