Touchstone, $15.00, ISBN 978-0-06-137608-5
Contemporary Fiction, 2009
Hollywood Car Wash was previously self published by the author back in 2007, when it generated quite a stir when it did seem as if the heroine of this book was modeled after Katie Holmes. Now rewritten and polished after it had been picked up by Simon & Schuster, Inc’s Touchstone imprint, with some of the pop culture references updated to reflect more accurately the entertainment landscape that has changed considerably since 2007, this one is set to teach people about the perils of selling out in the name of fame and fortune.
At 19, college drama student Amy Spencer believes that she knows what she wants in life: a flourishing career in the independent movie scene (is that even possible?). However, a chance audition lands her the role of the lead character in a brand new prime time teen-oriented drama Autumn Leaves. The drama becomes an unexpected hit and Amy, therefore, is the latest new starlet in LA. For the next three years, Amy is intoxicated by fame and all the perks that come with it. Okay, so she’s probably the fattest woman in LA despite the fact that she is considered normal-sized outside that place, and she has to go on painful diets consisting of pills and little else, but fame, wealth, and getting people to treat you like a goddess are ample compensations for having your handlers control every inch of your life, right? When Amy, now Star, finds herself swept into a contract to play the beau of a closeted male Hollywood star, however, that’s when her house of cards begins to fall.
A good reason to read this book is the pretty authentic-seeming depiction of life in LA. Of course, I’m not a retired Hollywood diva, so I can’t vouch for the actual authenticity of Amy’s experiences at being micromanaged by her handlers, but Ms Culwell makes the whole thing feel pretty real. Unfortunately, the end message isn’t anything new. As if we all don’t know that Hollywood is a screwed-up cesspit of sin and debauchery, really, with celebrities being indulged and pampered because they are the golden goose of their PR people, agents, managers, and handlers who view them with disdain and even contempt. And since the main character is a woman, the message of how lonely it is at the top is also present. (Stories with guys as the main characters will naturally preach about how great it feels to be at the top.)
In other words, the author may go the extra mile to show curious folks a peek into the fame machinery, but the end message remains the same: us mundane readers should feel blessed about our ordinary lives instead of aspiring to have Miley Cyrus’s life. She may be partying in the USA, but deep inside she’s probably weeping for a burger and all that money is small compensation for the poor dear’s personal Eva Peron melodrama.
It doesn’t help that Star is a pretty dull heroine. She has a few sarcastic one-liners that she keeps to herself. What I find annoying here is that despite her constant holier-than-thou attitude about plastic surgery and dieting, she always goes along with her handlers. True, you can correctly argue that she’s only 19 (although Star here actually comes off more older than she seems to be when it comes to the first person narration), but after a while, her constant lip service to one thing while doing another thing becomes tiring and it is hard to sympathize with her. After all, she asked for it… no?
The writing is clean, the story is readable, but somehow the familiar theme and the heroine who protests too much and tries too hard to get me to like her all prevent this from being a truly biting kind of read. Hollywood Car Wash doesn’t seem like a satire, it is instead a very preachy kind of chick-lit story that drives home a most familiar message down the reader’s throat.