Hasak-Lowy, author of a well-received short story collection, The Task of This Translator(2005), struggles in his debut novel, set primarily in Los Angeles. Daniel Bloom, a successful screenwriter, has trouble relating to his wife and son. As his family life crumbles, Bloom conceives a new movie idea: a nameless assassin who kills all those we love to hate-greedy CEOs, two-faced politicians, peddlers of questionable influence and various symbols of unearned privilege. It's not lost on Bloom that his brainstorm mirrors the anger and emptiness of his own life. The novel's tight setup, however, quickly unravels in a mire of half-developed characters, a baffling trip to Israel and descriptive passages and stretches of dialogue that serve little purpose. What saves the story is Bloom's wry wit and social commentary. He's a 21st-century man-in-crisis, an appealing character whose plight is, unfortunately, far too drawn out. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Captivesby Todd Hasak-Lowy
"A sniper is taking down suits and politicians - in Daniel Bloom's head." "Bloom is the kind of guy who ends most social gatherings with an alternately raging and despairing conversation about The State of the World. And recently things have taken a turn for the worse. His marriage is on the rocks, his teenage son is becoming increasingly unknowable, and his sense of… See more details below
"A sniper is taking down suits and politicians - in Daniel Bloom's head." "Bloom is the kind of guy who ends most social gatherings with an alternately raging and despairing conversation about The State of the World. And recently things have taken a turn for the worse. His marriage is on the rocks, his teenage son is becoming increasingly unknowable, and his sense of hopeless impotence has reached a stage of spiritual crisis that's no longer a matter of vapid dinner-party conversation." "So he decamps to his home office to work on his fifteenth screenplay, this time about a federal agent and a nameless assassin. The assassin is a sniper who targets the power elite: corporate chiefs who defraud their employees of billions of dollars in pensions, and political flacks who've rigged the system in their own favor. Only the federal agent isn't sure he wants to capture the sniper." Soon Bloom realizes that his screenplay hits too close to home: He really does want these people dead, so much so that this revenge fantasy takes over his life, sending him in search of salvation in an outrageous mentor, a possibly dangerous foreign country, and, finally, his very own backyard.
In this darkly humorous debut novel, Los Angeles screenwriter Daniel Bloom faces a spiritual crisis. The driven and successful Daniel (he penned the screenplay for the very profitable Helsinki Honeymoon, originally titled Captives) has neglected his family to focus on his career. Also increasingly despondent about current events, he becomes obsessed with an idea for a screenplay about an assassin who eliminates the corporate and political leaders Daniel feels are responsible for the state of the world. Distressed by this obsession, he seeks spiritual counsel from the highly unorthodox rabbi who teaches his son's bar mitzvah class. Soon Daniel is growing a beard, giving up meat, and taking a trip to Israel in a vague and dimly understood quest for spiritual renewal. Abruptly returning after wife Caroline is involved in a car accident, Daniel hits bottom. Caroline asks for a divorce, his son becomes estranged, and he must find a way to complete the screenplay while repairing his life. This wittily incisive take on the film business, suburban life, and contemporary dystopia is recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/1/08.]
"There should be no uncertainty about the author's explosive originality: a mix of zany wit, reverse-spin writing and enlarged purpose . . . Hasak-Lowy . . . goes beyond social satire to global concern."Richard Eder, The New York Times
"Decadently cerebral and playful . . . marvelously nimble . . . Hasak-Lowy's highly attuned observations make these stories hilarious."Chicago Tribune
- Random House Publishing Group
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- 6.44(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.13(d)
Read an Excerpt
LOS ANGELES It’s impossible to explain what anger the screenwriter felt, what humiliation, due to reality of course.
–Orly Castel - Bloom,
“The Screenwriter and Reality”
And in July of that year, on an otherwise uneventful morning, Daniel suddenly found himself confronting an unmistakable reluctance to continue writing stories. For seventeen years Daniel had dedicated a good portion of his waking life to doing just this, to crafting stories, which in his case took the form of screenplays. He had completed fourteen full scripts, had sold eight of these, three of which were in fact turned into movies. One of these, his eleventh screenplay, entitled Captives, grossed over one hundred and sixty million dollars in the United States alone, though the director chose to rename it Helsinki Honeymoon, a clause in the twenty- eight page contract giving the headstrong Frenchman permission to do so. Regardless, Daniel had earned for himself and his family nearly ﬁve million dollars through the sale of these screenplays, enough to purchase a beautiful, spacious home in the expensive Southern California real estate market, enough to send his son to a competitive, pricey private school, enough to provide his wife the freedom not to work for nine of these past seventeen years. Though not one of Hollywood’s leading screenwriters, Daniel’s name had become well known and respected, such that a major studio would occasionally approach Daniel with hopes that he might be willing to ﬁx someone else’s screenplay, as the studio had decided, either before or during production, that the screenplay required the attention of a professional. Often Daniel would decline these offers, his own projects obviously more important than someone else’s, but when the timing was right Daniel would agree and be paid handsomely for his services.
Though Daniel has remained, until this July morning, determined to continue writing his own screenplays, the possibility of script doctoring full- time, on the off chance that he one day ﬁnds himself uninterested in or incapable of writing movies on his own, appeals to him as an insurance policy of sorts, because, to be sure, there are times when the pressure, much of it manufactured in his own head, along with the intimidating lunacy of the movie industry, the egos, the indecision, the absurd budgets, the reluctance to take risks, the prevailing culture of remorseless dishonesty, leads him to conclude, nearly, that the work involved in realizing his own screenplays is no longer worth the effort. Not in the monetary sense, in this regard it is undeniably worth it, but rather in terms of the emotional and almost spiritual investment necessary to conceive of a basic story, envision the main characters who would be the agents of its action, select a proper setting in which they would perform these actions, patiently massaging these interrelated but inchoate concepts into being, waiting out the days when he could not concentrate, ﬁnding a balance between the steady, clever, and original, but not too original (this being mainstream Hollywood, after all) development of plot, character, and setting, all in order to complete a ﬁrst draft, at which point it would be necessary to show the script to his agent and then wait a week or even a month for his comments, feedback that often strongly suggested, if not necessarily required, that he perform major, however elective, surgery on his screenplay, a process that was invariably more painful and less enjoyable than the invigorating, though still anxious early days of sketching out the basic contours of his new story, a process that would often be repeated once, twice, even three or four times, at which point the diminishing returns on his sustained effort and anguished focus would nearly get the best of him, bringing him to the brink of despair, which he would only be able to avoid by drinking in the evenings, watching hour upon hour of vapid late- night television and eating vast quantities of imported semisweet chocolate, causing him to gain weight and lose sleep and become, more or less, an insufferable asshole, a man his wife and son, who loved him to be sure, learned to identify and then avoid almost entirely, until one night, it always seemed to happen late, late at night, Daniel would have his breakthrough, and though work would remain, it would all be downhill from there, until two to four months later a well- earned bottle of wonderfully overpriced champagne would be popped open in nearly anticlimactic celebration, while Daniel’s checking account would wait with silent and cooperative patience to be inﬂated to the tune of six ﬁgures or more.
The negative features of this process were only heightened by Daniel’s knowledge of what awaited his screenplay once it was acquired by a studio, as a clear majority of studio executives, directors, and leading men thought nothing of altering his screenplays beyond recognition to suit their infantile needs and desires, needs and desires that invariably led to a ﬁnal cinematic product of undeniably lower quality than what would certainly have been produced had this executive, director, or leading man done his best to faithfully translate the words in Daniel’s script into the visual and aural language of ﬁlm. After the success of Captives, that is, after the success of Helsinki Honeymoon, Daniel sought to leverage his newly well- earned clout within the industry into more control over the various complicated and high- stakes processes that took place between the initial sale of a script and that unlikely ﬁnal and fateful moment the very ﬁrst moviegoer voluntarily approaches the box ofﬁce to buy a ticket. Daniel joined forces with an up- and- coming director who had recently completed his ﬁrst feature, and the two set out to take Daniel’s next screenplay, Locked Up and Loaded, which the up- and- coming director read with great enthusiasm, and sell it for a truly enormous sum of money to the studio that had produced the up- and- coming director’s successful ﬁrst ﬁlm, with this director signed on as director and with the two of them signed on as producers, all with an eye on not just turning Daniel’s outstanding screenplay into precisely the great movie this screenplay could be, but, in the process, on turning the two of them, Daniel and the director, into major players in Hollywood, into an unstoppable two- headed creative force that would leave its mark on American popular cinema.
Despite the dense character of this opening, a full account of what stood between Daniel, the director, and the realization of their ambitions would simply be too involved to detail at this time. Sufﬁce to say that the pathological lunacy of the movie industry, in particular the egos and the remorseless dishonesty, seemed, in Daniel’s eyes, to grow only more unpredictable and treacherous as the daunting peak of this foolhardy madness ﬁnally came into full view. None of this was helped by the fact that the up- and- coming director turned out to be a very different man than the man Daniel had initially thought him to be. Most of all, Daniel learned that the successful navigation of the decidedly rockier terrain of actual production required all manner of endurance and fortitude that easily outmeasured the endurance and fortitude that one had to bring to bear on the creation of an industry- worthy screenplay, this more substantial endurance and fortitude involving not just sustained focus and creativity, but the ability to outlast and simply intimidate rivals and adversaries. What Daniel learned was that while the far-from- modest demands involved in successfully writing and selling a screenplay were, indeed, far from modest, when considered against Daniel’s character, in particular his strengths and weaknesses, it turned out that the fulﬁllment of such sizable screenwriting demands was not such a surprise after all. By contrast, Daniel and his character, his strengths and weaknesses, turned out to be ill suited to the realization of the more considerable demands at the heart of taking a promising screenplay, or even, or especially, a truly great screenplay, and turning it into a movie that might ﬁnd its way to thousands of cineplexes here and abroad. What Daniel learned was that he was not equipped to overcome the various interpersonal obstacles that invariably present themselves on the path to postproduction, the lying, the confrontations, the ﬁnal, decisive act of resigning oneself to the fact that a mortal, lifelong enemy, an enemy with considerable power and clout in the industry, has been made in order to properly realize, say, the relationship between leading man and leading lady. To be sure, Daniel had come to dread the various difﬁculties that predictably emerged during the extended solitude of writing a screenplay, but the amount of drinking and late- night television and bittersweet chocolate Daniel found himself having to consume to surmount these production- related interpersonal hurdles transformed him into a purely insufferable and truly self- loathing asshole, such that his wife, a woman who certainly has her own shortcomings, told him one evening, with an impressive lack of ceremony or even warning, that marriage contract or no marriage contract, she was most certainly not willing to share her life and raise a son with the contemptible prick that Daniel had become while wrestling with the world- famous action hero over whether or not his character would get the girl in the end. Though their personal ﬁnances had never been better, this movie having more than funded his and his family’s much- needed getaway to the South of France that spring, Daniel unequivocally regretted, or at the least most certainly enjoyed no aspect of the experience that was transforming the screenplay Locked Up and Loaded into an actual movie, a movie the viewing public, or the disappointingly small portion of the movie- going public that actually bothered to see it, knows by its unimaginatively, though highly contested, shortened name, Loaded.
Remarkably, however, none of this played a direct role in Daniel’s sudden disinclination to continue writing screenplays. Though, as stated above, crafting a screenplay, even for the highly experienced Daniel, wasn’t easy, he was still more than capable, in fact, his ideas seemed, in terms of originality and crowd- pulling potential, to be evolving in promising directions. And it is his latest premise, an initially intriguing premise, that turns out to be the cause of his problems. Daniel’s specialty as a screenwriter is located within the larger genres of action and suspense. All of his scripts contain and in fact revolve around violence, in particular the specter of violent acts committed by characters who, though demonstrating the potential to perform such acts, are not lifelong criminals or even remotely violent people. In this regard there is an unmistakable psychological component to Daniel’s stories. While the rest of the industry steadily migrates toward higher body counts and louder explosions, Daniel tells stories in which hesitant and often solitary individuals are drawn reluctantly toward this violence, eventually surrendering to its seemingly irresistible pull in surprising and often disturbing ways. In the world of Daniel’s thrillers, violence, even the mere threat of violence, possesses a overpowering contagious force, such that previously nonviolent people can, and often do, commit acts of horrible violence, having been irreversibly altered by the mere exposure to the possibility of becoming targets of violence themselves. Revenge, in other words, is always at the center of Daniel’s scripts, as is the transformation of a placid setting, a suburban home, a modest church, a country store, into a site of bloodletting. What pleases Daniel most about his scripts, and what he has found himself working to isolate and cultivate in the development of his screenplays, is the morally ambiguous nature of the violence in his stories. The vengeful acts his previously nonviolent characters commit are often out of all proportion to the threat they encountered or even the physical harm they themselves suffered. For instance, in Captives, or Helsinki Honeymoon, a man takes a woman hostage, but over the course of three sleepless nights comes to regret his decision and perhaps falls in love with his captive, while she becomes consumed by her desire to subject her captor to the sort of anguish she endures even though she may have feelings for him as well. The captor’s decision to set her free, to undo what he had done, allows her the opportunity to do just this, only she cannot, once given the upper hand, restrain herself, leading to variousunpleasant acts, all of which are colored with a disturbing and not- so-subtle sexual overtone. This is Daniel’s imaginative terrain.
His latest project, still in its earliest stages, would open as follows: It is a sunny, early morning in an extremely afﬂuent and sparklingly new suburban community. Much of this opening sequence is set primarily in a single residence, though there are steady cuts to the rest of the neighborhood, where, for instance, newspapers are delivered, women jog, automatic sprinkler systems are activated, a security vehicle makes its rounds, immigrants attend to lawns and landscaping, and uniformed personnel in the guardhouse at the entrance to this gated community carefully ﬁlter early morning visitors and brieﬂy acknowledge residents heading out to work. The unmistakably tranquil character of the neighborhood, the order, the quiet, the calm, the safety, would seem to suggest an ironic reading of the guardhouse and the security vehicle, though Daniel hopes that the director would present them as neutrally as possible. Inside the main residence, a family continues to sleep except for one man, a father-husband, who rises quietly from bed, puts on a perfectly white terrycloth robe, slips on a pair of nearly new leather slippers, and wanders through his expansive home, where he passes through its all- American upscale décor, complete with professional family portraits and giant televisions and an impossibly clean custom kitchen. This man, in his late forties, is tall, ﬁt, handsome, and clean- cut, though a shave is perhaps in order. As he wanders through his house it remains unclear precisely what sort of state this man is in. He appears restless more than anything else, opening his top- of- the- line refrigerator but not removing anything to eat or drink, peeking his head brieﬂy into a fully equipped exercise room but not exercising, even looking in at his expensive automobiles in his garage but obviously not going anywhere. He stops longest in his tastefully furnished home ofﬁce. Without sitting down, he checks something on the computer and then leaves, the camera pausing brieﬂy on an answering machine, where a high number, eleven or sixteen, blinks in red. Finally, still in his robe, the man disarms an alarm system, opens his front door, and walks partway down his perfectly green lawn to retrieve the morning paper. He removes it slowly from a plastic sleeve and scans the front page, where, after a moment, his expression shifts slightly, his eyes closing and opening again. The camera pans a hundred and eighty degrees, stopping behind his shoulder and thus allowing the newspaper to come into focus. There on the front page, just below the fold, is a picture of this same man, in a dark blue suit, leaving a courthouse, where, the headline explains, as the former CEO of a scandalously failed multinational corporation, he has been arraigned. Just then a slight noise is heard. The man falls and tumbles over, blood running out of a fresh hole in his forehead and pooling into the newspaper that contains his picture. At this point the camera cuts to the assassin, who is most likely in a van, though Daniel was still considering a tree, a rooftop, or even a neighboring house. The man quickly but calmly lowers his high- powered riﬂe, dismantles it, and carefully stores it in a padded briefcase, which he then closes. Moments later this second man drives out through the front gate, quickly blending, over the course of a few jump cuts, into the ever- thickening morning trafﬁc.
Here are the other features of the story Daniel had already envisioned: The main investigator into this murder, probably a federal agent, would, it turns out, have a presently deteriorating father who himself suffered greatly from the collapse of a giant corporation and/or the misconduct and deception of its executives. Daniel knew this would have to be handled gingerly, so as not to make the investigator’s potential ambivalence too obvious, but clearly the agent, in addition to subscribing to the widely held opinion that the murdered executive was a despicable person, would himself have had to experience up close the way such corporate deceit ruins the lives of actual people. Meanwhile, in another minutely choreographed scene, a second well- groomed, if slightly ﬂeshier and clearly unctuous, afﬂuent man is similarly assassinated, by the same still- anonymous sniper.
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