The novelist hasn't always been kind to Los Angeles. Whether it's the existential noir of Raymond Chandler, the psychological and cultural dread of Joan Didion or the hallucinatory dystopias of Steve Erickson, there's something inevitably damaged about the portrayal of the city of lapsed angels -- that "bright, guilty place," as Orson Welles once put it.
Welles' spot-on description certainly rings true to the Los Angeles that lurks at the heart of Rachel Resnick's Go West Young F*cked-Up Chick, a promising yet frustratingly uneven first novel that chronicles one woman's trip down the neon rabbit hole of L.A. "Hard to believe this is the town that spins out all our dreams," quips Rebecca Roth, the novel's picaresque young heroine, who heads west after the suicide of her mother and immediately goes about staking her claim in la-la land, mucking her way through the detritus of Southern California, wanting (of course) to make films and take the town by storm. "I was exultant," she states not long after her arrival. "Even breathed the thick poison. Liked the way it filled the throat."
But before she can become the artist she longs to be, Rebecca must first endure a series of low-level jobs in the entertainment industry (transcribing celebrity interviews for Entertainment Tonight, working production on B movies) and navigate the vertiginous waters of love and loss (there's Isaac, there's Giorgio, there's Slim), as well as confront the consuming memory of her mother. The chapter titles provide a general sense of how Rebecca's helter-skelter and somewhat predictable script plays out: "My First Abortion," "On Not Becoming an Actress," "Things She Learned in Therapy." Throughout, Resnick counters Rebecca's technicolor odyssey with fragmented glimpses of L.A. life -- a la Robert Altman's Short Cuts -- ranging from cow-killing Satanists and a suicidal socialite to a man who claims to be the son of Gene Autry.
Other than the occasional over-the-top rhapsodizing about Los Angeles, Resnick handles the material with an impressive deftness, and her vibrant prose glimmers with the intensity of that omnipresent SoCal sun. Nevertheless, her talents as a writer can't overcome the book's fatal shortcoming: its structure. Told in brief vignettes (most in first person but some in third), the novel unfolds in a nonlinear, collage-like fashion, jumping back and forth among several periods in Rebecca's life. Perhaps the intent was to replicate the cinematic jump cut or mirror the manic energy of L.A., or both. The result, however, is a disjointed debut that reads more like a series of semi-related episodes than like an organic, fully realized novel.
Without an underlying narrative anchor, Go West Young F*cked-Up Chick ends abruptly and unsatisfactorily. What we get is Rebecca's belated attempt at summation, at epilogue: "And yet ... I am still here in the town that throbs with celluloid and videotape. Something keeps me ... For all the city's smog, its choppers, sirens, gunshots, snarled traffic and ego-tripping monsters, there is comfort here. Apocalyptic authenticity." But after 250 pages, the reader expects more from Rebecca, regardless of how long she's lived in L.A. and no matter how f*cked up she might be. -- Salon
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In vignettes that are meant to resonate but instead remain glib fragments, Resnick's debut novel charts the tormented journey of 20-something Brown graduate Rebecca Roth as she moves west to L.A. to escape the memory of her mother, who killed herself when Rebecca was a teenager. Seeing her mother's ghost everywhere, a driven yet self-loathing Rebecca bounces from job to job (logging tapes at Entertainment Tonight, acting as personal assistant to a mad screenwriter named Stavros) and from man to man (Isaac the beautiful slacker, Giorgio the unavailable accountant) as an artsy proletariat in the lower rungs of the film and television industry. She lives in a self-described world of futons, lithium and chaos, feeling she must emulate her film idols Fellini and Antonioni. Resnick narrates Rebecca's adventures nonchronologically, jumping between the late '80s and the mid-'90s; her impressions, mostly in the first person but sometimes third, are interspersed with snapshots of life in L.A., featuring characters ranging from a one-legged agent's assistant named Esmeralda to a cow killed by Satanists on a hotel roof. As a result, the distanced reader gains only a fractured portrait of Rebecca, the city and the time period. With chapter titles such as "My First Abortion" and "More Things She Learned in Therapy," the prose is outweighed by the pose. When Rebecca says, "nobody escapes vanity here, or shallow dreams or basest desires," the reader versed in Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero has already grown numb to her frenetic tale. (Apr.)
Hollywood first novel, bravely bizarre and splintered as a mosaic, like pieces of Bruce Wagner and Nathanael West glued into a window sunlit with despair. Well, what does a 20-year-old heroine, who finds her suicidal, alcoholic mother hanging by her neck in the bathroom, have going for her? Not much. So Rebecca Roth gets into her shamefully beat-up yellow Toyota Corolla and drives cross-country to L.A., where she falls for super-charismatic black stud/French scholar Isaac, supports him with her $120-a-week job assisting celebrity reporter Darlene on Entertainment Tonight, visits sound-stages, helps locate celebs at parties, sits pretty with Austrian muscle-man Arnold (known here as Helmut Grosskopf), finds herself pregnant on the same day as she kicks out Isaac-and then must get an abortion. If that sounds like a storyline, it isn't. The novel is pieced together in fragments, some only a third of a page long, giving us an airless, spirit-choking survey of stars, restaurants, and Rebecca's largely lowlife existence: "I was exultant. Even breathed the thick poison, liked the way it filled my throat." Reluctantly, she briefly tries therapy for abused children of alcoholic parents, not thinking herself abused, yet haunted by grungy, horrible dreams of her dead mother. Sleeping with kooks and a rocker from the Meat Puppets, fielding paranoid phone calls, encountering a middle-aged nut in the Laundromat who thinks he's Gene Autry's son and has a postcard of Gene to prove it, Rebecca fails to make much sense of the nightmarish Day-Glo landscape forever bopping the reader's eyes, billboards, shaved palm trees, all in a technicarnal brilliance. An apocalyptic Wile E. Coyote cartoon, or alipstick kiss on a napkin
kept in a bureau as a souvenir of hapless days when you were underpaid,
little-known, and shivering.
From the Publisher
"Sharp, jarring...Enjoy the visceral experience of existing on the fringes of celebrity." Details
"Rachel Resnick's debut novel zips back and forth between set pieces and epiphanies-and cuts deep." The Philadelphia Inquirer
"F*cking amazing! Imagine Irvine Welsh with a sex change and air-dropped onto Hollywood. Go West...is more than a great book, it's a phenomenon. A flat-out hysterical, heart-for-days guide through end-of-the-line Los Angeles. Rachel Resnick can write the ass off any man alive." Jerry Stahl, Author of Permanent Midnight
"Bravely bizarre and splintered as a mosaic, like pieces of Bruce Wagner and Nathanael West glued into a window sunlit with despair." Kirkus Reviews