Karoo

Karoo

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by Steve Tesich
     
 

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Saul Karoo is a memorable creation. He is a successful Hollywood script doctor, a fixer of flawed films. He is fifty, overweight, a heavy drinker and chain smoker. He is at an age when things break down, but he has no health insurance. His separation from his wife, Dinah, has become another form of marriage. His relationship with his son, Billy, a college student,

Overview


Saul Karoo is a memorable creation. He is a successful Hollywood script doctor, a fixer of flawed films. He is fifty, overweight, a heavy drinker and chain smoker. He is at an age when things break down, but he has no health insurance. His separation from his wife, Dinah, has become another form of marriage. His relationship with his son, Billy, a college student, is one of pure avoidance. He cannot free himself from the grip of the powerful producer Jay Cromwell, who wants him to recut the last great film of the legendary director Arthur Houseman and make it more commercial. After seeing the film, Karoo considers refusing the job. But he soon becomes obsessed with Leila Miller, an unknown actress whom he has spotted in a small scene. In fact Karoo becomes convinced that she is the mother of his adopted son, Billy, and he becomes determined to track her down.

Karoo finds Leila in Venice Beach (where she's one of thousands of Hollywood hopefuls), working as a waitress and haunted by the memory of the baby she gave up for adoption. Karoo falls in love with her, and in the grip of his newfound devotion uses every cheap screenwriter's trick to change Houseman's poignant masterpiece into an outrageous comedy that will make Leila a star. And, he plans to unite the long-lost mother and child at the film's premiere. But Billy, not knowing that Leila is his mother, also falls for her and she for him. The triangle ends in an auto accident, with Karoo driving, in which Billy and Leila are killed and the recut film, becomes a huge success. Devastated by the personal disaster he has helped to create, Karoo winds up being hired by Cromwell to transform a journalistic expose of his own tragic machinations into a screenplay.

Steve Tesich has grounded his story in the highly recognizable world of New York in the late-eighties, a milieu of unscrupulous West Coast producers, dry cleaning, divorce and fantasies of escape. Karoo is a haunting, highly human, deliciously realistic novel of decline, fall, and rejuvenation.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Early in this hilarious novel, readers will be laughing out loud, but Tesich is ultimately quite serious about reminding us that moments or years of "unlove" can never be set right. Wisecracking narrator Saul Karoo, a Hollywood script doctor living in New York, is a heavy drinker and smoker, a hypochondriac who refuses to get health insurance because he "no longer has his health." In the novel's opening scene, Karoo spends the last Christmas party of the 1980s wondering how he can avoid taking his adopted, college-age son, Billy, home with him that night (he succeeds, after a fashion, by taking home a sloshed young woman instead). Billy's goal is to connect with his father, but Karoo evades intimacy on every level as steadfastly as he ducks the truth: he lies constantly, yet his first-person narrative reveals an entertaining man at once sensitive and indifferent. Haunted by the harm he's done, he longs to reform but seems incapable of playing the game straight. Meanwhile, Machiavellian superproducer Jay Cromwell (who makes Karoo look like a "moral force of his time") sends him an unreleased film by venerable director Arthur Houseman. Karoo recognizes that the film is a masterpiece, but Cromwell wants him to restructure ita process that has in the past led to one screenwriter's suicide. Karoo refuses the Houseman film until the cassette leads him to Billy's biological mother and he suddenly thinks he sees a way to make everyone happy. Tesich (Summer Crossing, and many screenplays, including Academy Award-winning Breaking Away) knew New York and Hollywood well. The movie-making scenes here are classic. Even though the end of this posthumously published novel doesn't live up to the humor and poignancy of the rest, Tesich's memorable characters, particularly Karoo, will endure. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In his second novel (after Summer Crossing, LJ 10/1/82), the late screenwriter creates a memorable monster in the titular Karoo, a genius hack and aging Manhattan-bound script and film doctor who's filtering his life through as many bad habits as possible as a means of avoiding contact with humanity, which includes his wife and grown son. The guy's a bastard, but he's also what lesser lights would call a life riot: smart, mean, charming, awful, and as fascinating as the novel spinning around him. Tesich's writing is, as usual, enticing, sharp, and observant (if a tad too literarywatch out for all the Ulysses stuff). Not to be missed. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/97.]David Bartholomew, NYPL
Bill Kent
In his horrifically bitter novel "Karoo," Tesich, who won an Academy Award for the screenplay of the balmy 1979 bicycling film "Breaking Away," muses on America's interest in quick and easy salvation, as well as its cynical admiration for the manipulators who sell us mass-market dreams....Scathing, hilarious and glorious in its embrace of unpleasant realities. -- Bill Kent, New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Original, hugely ambitious, seriocomic deathsong by the late Tesich (Summer Crossing, 1982), a screenwriting Oscar-winner for Breaking Away (1979). Tesich died in 1996, at age 53, having completed this epic about overweight, wealthy, 50-year-old Hollywood script doctor Saul "Doc" Karoo, a talentless, chain-smoking alcoholic hack separated from his wife Dianah and fatally flawed with several emotional diseases. Indeed, every gargantuan character flaw known to man fits snugly into Karoo's package of masks. Pointlessly, he keeps an expensive office to go to daily as he fiddles with "doctor's block"he's redoctoring a script that he doctored three years earlier and that has now gone through many other doctors and doctorings. Meanwhile, he can't face his adopted son, Billy, a Harvard freshman, but must face supremely well-cultivated gargoyle Jay Cromwell, a producer of supermegahits who chews film doctors for breakfast. Karoo tirelessly avoids self-understanding, fearing the glare of any major insight into himself. After all, if he allowed himself to consider his life, he might pluck out his eyes in disgust. As is, he loses more and more of himself until there's nothing left but an insomniac creature living out his "storyline." Among other events, Cromwell has Karoo recut and thus knowingly ruin a masterpiece by a Welles-like directorial giant. As it happens, Billy's birth mother, Leila Millar, a waitress, has a small role in the film, and Karoo recognizes and befriends her. They begin an affair. But son Billy, not knowing the older starlet is his mother, also falls for her and she for him. The triangle ends in an auto accident, with Karoo driving, in which Billy and Leila are killedand therecut small film, prominently featuring Leila, becomes the year's big smash. In an added irony, Cromwell decides to film a Hollywoodized version of the Karoo, Billy, Leila triangle as written by a dirt-digging Pulitzer-winning reporter. It's a far, far-out and haunting ending to cap a powerful and deeply disturbing portrait of a flawed, self-destructive, and compulsively fascinating figure.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781890447373
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
05/10/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
1,174,180
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.06(d)

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Karoo 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
txjayhawk More than 1 year ago
It started off so promising but then just got more and more tedious. The dialogue is clever and often humorous, but the story constantly bogs down with endless asides from Saul Karoo's thoughts. After a couple hundred pages, this book that purports to be funny and clever is just unrelenting. Prefering protagnosists to be likeable, I found very little to like about Saul. The rave reviews disappointed with their inaccuracy.