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Posted February 23, 2003
Intentional Exaggerations, Calculated Caricatures, High Camp!
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages." --Shakespeare, As You Like It (Act 2, Sc. 7) Ray Bradbury, one of the most celebrated fiction writers of our time, has published more than thirty books, close to 600 short stories, and numerous poems, essays, and plays. Bradbury was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois, and now lives in Los Angeles. He is best known for his novels, such as Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. The author's new novel virtually defies categorization. Set in 1960, in Venice, Calif., Let's All Kill Constance is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic tale, a noir mystery that balances kitsch and class. A murder mystery? Well, not exactly. It's more like an unmurder mystery. In her time, Constance Rattigan played many parts. An aging film star, the five-foot-two femme fatale with a golden tan still possesses beauty that causes passersby to turn their heads for a second look. A method actress, a woman with a thousand faces, Constance is a chameleon who changes her personality and appearance to adapt to various roles. Trouble is, by assuming multiple personalities, Constance has lost her identity. No longer knowing who she is, she determines to kill the past--to destroy her multiple personae and rediscover her true self. The narrator of this story is an unnamed science-fiction writer, at whose beachfront bungalow Constance Rattigan appears on a dark and stormy night, with lightning flashing and the waves crashing. Constance brings a 1900 Los Angeles telephone directory, a "Book of the Dead" containing names of the dead and the soon-to-be-dead. Constance's name, along with several others, is marked with a red ink circle around it and a crucifix. Convinced that Death has been chasing her down the seashore, Constance is terrified. She enlists the aid of our sci-fi writer-hero, who, with his wacky sidekicks--irascible Detective Elmo Crumley, Blind Henry, and Fritz Wong--uncover the secrets of a decadent Tinseltown. In search of clues, our semi-fearless foursome sally forth boldly, being careful to heed the counsel of Satchel Paige, who said, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." They ascend Mount Lowe, to the musty archives of an eccentric newspaper collector; press on to the Psychic Research Lodge of Queen Califia (astrologer, palmist, and phrenologist); visit St. Vibiana's Cathedral and Constance Rattigan's big white Arabian-fortress beach house; drive down Hollywood Boulevard to legendary Grauman's Chinese Restaurant, the most famous movie palace in the world; explore the spooky, ghost-haunted depths of L.A.'s catacombs, and tour the tombs at Glendale's Forest Lawn Cemetery. Slowly but surely, a portrait of Constance Rattigan emerges: a vixen who sells herself--body and soul--in cutthroat competition with other actresses in order to win prize roles in films, and to steal their men. "Why is it," says our narrator, "someone like Constance is a lightning bolt, performing seal, high-wire frolicker, wild laughing human, and at the same time she's the devil incarnate, an evil cheater at life's loaded deck?" As I read Bradbury's ludicrous tale, I felt my thumb slowly turning downward. It suddenly dawned on me, however, that this book is a send-up. The book's opening lines should have alerted me to this fact: "It was a dark and stormy night. Is that one way to catch your reader?" Surely, somewhere the spirit of Charles Schulz must be smiling. Liquor flows freely through these pages. Corks are popped at the drop of a hat. Our narrator muses: "Malt does more than Milton can, / to justify God's way towards Man. / And Freud spoils kids and spares the rod, / to justify Man's ways toward God." Judged "seriously," Let's All Kill Constance is ludicroWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.