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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Make no mistake: Dennis Hensley knows Los Angeles like the back of Angelyne's hand. Hensley's novel, Misadventures in the (213), is packed to the brim with countless name-droppings, but don't let this put you off: This is one of the best, most insightful Hollywood coming-of-age novels ever penned. Forget the white noise of Less Than Zero, forget the Hollywood confessionals that are public relation coups — get this novel for the real stuff. Hensley's novel is hilarious, and his hero, Craig Clybourn, is a terrifically naive Everyman who has come to the City of Angels to hang.
I tried to resist this novel's spell. I really did. I'd lived in Los Angeles 13 years, which makes me something of a native by West Side standards, and I didn't believe any writer could get a handle on that town in the '90s. But Hensley does it, and more important, he does it through the eyes of a gay young man who has gone west not for fame or fortune, but to exist.
Sure, Craig writes, and temps to pay the bills. But he is very much acted upon by Hollywood, so much so that I began to see him as a lighthearted version of Nick Caraway, Gatsby's observant neighbor. But Gatsby, in Hensley's novel, is played by Dandy Rio, a Sally Bowles-ish television starlet who never lets real life get in the way of her fun. Dandy is truly larger than life, a diva in training whose sitcom is just taking off. Craig manages to wander the periphery of small-screen fame and fortune via Dandy's life, watching her flop in her audition for "Circus of the Stars." Craig is just coming to terms with hissexualorientation after his star-crossed affair with hunky Sergio when he gets on the cable game show and meets Bink Darlington, an aging game-show maven who wants to fix Craig up with his son, Damon.
Damon is what Craig terms "a member of the Cute Club." Craig admires the club members from afar, those adorable young men who look so good that one almost doesn't want to talk to them so as to avoid spoiling the illusion. But Damon, who plays Aladdin in the warm-up show for the Disney cartoon at the El Capitan Theater, is immediately hot for Craig. Quickly the potential affair disintegrates, but not before a strong friendship begins between them. Craig, in fact, becomes a friend of many in Hollywood, and his life as a burgeoning screenwriter intersects with some of the most intriguing and off-the-wall characters ever to grace the printed page.
Misadventures is truly outstanding. It reads very true of young people in Los Angeles, those who are hunting for fame, those who have lost it, those born to it, and those who will never achieve it. But they all circle around one another as if life itself were its own circus of the stars, and Craig is there to marvel at it all, the ultimate audience.
Do not miss Misadventures in the (213), particularly if you're partial to well-told tales of Hollywood. Hensley writes sharp prose, and more than once I had to stop and wonder at the author's dead-on portrayal of people and their chatter in Tinseltown. Craig's journey as he discovers the ups and downs of the California Dream is told with wit and sparkle, but the dazzle never overshadows a very moving story about one young gay man and his friends as they discover how to survive in the absurdity of Hollywood. With Misadventures in the (213), Dennis Hensley scores a hit!
Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including Dark of the Eye and The Children's Hour. His recent critically acclaimed short story, "O, Rare and Most Exquisite," can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Volume 10.