- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
In 2010, when KFC introduced its Original Recipe® Double Down, a bacon-and-cheese "sandwich" on a fried-chicken "bun," late-night hosts mocked it as the latest specimen of fast-food excess. One couldn't help smelling a rat in the fryolator: The Double Down was, any fool could see, a self-conscious parody of fast-food excess. The marketing wunderkinder who'd invented it and the late-night joke writers feigning horror at it were, where sensibility is concerned, the same people. The real joke was on those who felt genuine horror at this Skid Row Cordon Bleu — the ones who didn't get that it was a joke.
A great deal of pop culture is, like the Double Down, intentional self-parody. It's a gesture of contempt at its consumers (think reality TV), and it escapes serious scrutiny by forcing its critics to state the mind-numbingly obvious. Hence, most of us would rather eat broken crack pipes than read an "uproariously scabrous" satire of our "celebrity-addled society," dwelling in it being more than instructive enough. But Bruce Wagner's Dead Stars, his seventh novel, doesn't just plumb the celebrity septic tank backing up into our lives. His knack, shared with Dickens, is for taking grotesques and imparting souls to them.
Lord, but it's an uphill slog. Readers are warned that their post- Stars shower may call for Brillo pads and delousing powder. Wagner's Memorial (2006), a masterpiece blending the sublime, scatological, and jaws-wired-shut violent, seems almost decorous alongside Stars. Wagner, an occasional screenwriter who once drove a limousine at the Beverly Hills Hotel, inhabits the consciousness of Hollywood and its discontents with a foul-mouthed, maniacally punning pidgin, as distinctive as Burgess's Clockwork Orange argot or the prose stylings of Money-era Amis. A chapter focused on the drug-addicted paparazzo Jerzy (as in Memorial, Wagner does the vantage-switching ensemble-cast thing), who's interviewing at a celebrity-upskirt fetish website, is characteristic, and as vile as anything in the language:
THE HONEYSHOT! posted celebrity skin of all ilk, with that very special emphasis on the classic Bermuda Δ crotchshot, a cash crop that yielded panty shots & occasional much-coveted, crème de la crème panty-less twat-shocker. If you were 18 showing cameltoe by the pool in Maui (Xmas in Hawaii was a very busy time for papsmearazzi: tis the Four Seasons to be jolly!), scuba-diving in Sorrento, aimless in Amalfi or aqua-marooned in the Maldives, one of Harry's minions would be on you like ants on feta —It gets worse — with Wagner, it always gets worse. Yet, however much this language threatens to brutalize us, it serves an indispensable purpose. It's impossible to read it without sensing the desperation behind ambition, the cold-sweat fear that if one stops moving, even in one's private thoughts, death will catch up.
Reviewer: Stefan Beck
Posted July 30, 2012