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Pinball Theory of Apocalypse
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Pinball Theory of Apocalypse

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by Jonathan Selwood

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For years, painter Isabel Raven has made an almost-living forging Impressionist masterpieces to decorate the McMansions of the not-quite-Sotheby's-auction rich. But when she serendipitously hits on an idea that turns her into the "It Girl" of the L.A. art scene, her career takes off just as the rest of her life heads south. Her personal-chef boyfriend is having a


For years, painter Isabel Raven has made an almost-living forging Impressionist masterpieces to decorate the McMansions of the not-quite-Sotheby's-auction rich. But when she serendipitously hits on an idea that turns her into the "It Girl" of the L.A. art scene, her career takes off just as the rest of her life heads south. Her personal-chef boyfriend is having a wild sexual dalliance with the teenage self-styled "Latina Britney Spears." If Isabel refuses to participate in an excruciatingly humiliating ad campaign, her sociopathic art dealer is threatening to "gut her like an emu." And her reclusive physicist father has conclusively proven that the end of the world is just around the corner.

Now, with the Apocalypse looming—and with only a disaffected Dutch-Eskimo billionaire philanthropist and his dissolute thirteen-year-old adopted daughter to guide her—there's barely enough time remaining for Isabel to reexamine her fragile delusional existence . . . and the delusional reality of her schizophrenic native city.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A Hollywood native takes a satirical poke at art and fame in his debut novel. In art school, Isabel Raven was known for her technical ability and apparent lack of originality or vision. While these qualities were not prized by her peers or her teachers, they're just what she needs to become one of the "fine art facsimilists." Her job is faking the minor works of great artists for status-conscious, culturally deficient billionaires. This is a great idea for a novel, and it could have been the setup for a mordantly entertaining one. Disappointingly, the author uses Isabel's career as court painter to Los Angeles's nouveau riche as backstory (leaving us to imagine, with some longing, what might have been had Bruce Wagner gotten to this idea first). Isabel's lucrative and high-profile career is that of faker with a twist: She inserts celebrity faces into well-known masterpieces-think American Gothic with Tom and Katie. As he sends his heroine careening through an antic dystopia plagued by wildfires, earthquakes, teen singing sensations and omnipresent advertisements for vaginal rejuvenation, Selwood assembles a series of cloyingly madcap vignettes that hold little interest on their own and fail to adhere as a whole. One of the book's irritatingly oddball characters praises L.A. for its superficiality and, in doing so, offers a paean to surfaces themselves. Selwood seems to offer this philosophical turn as a justification for his aggressive, pointless, not-quite-hip novel, and the argument doesn't hold. As slight as Paris Hilton, and just about as smart. Agent: James McCarthy/Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.46(d)

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Read an Excerpt

The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse

A Novel
By Jonathan Selwood

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Jonathan Selwood
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061173875

Chapter One

Just as I'm touching up the manic glint in Tom Cruise's eyes, another aftershock hits. I stumble back from the easel to try and keep from toppling over, but with the hardwood floor shifting violently in all three dimensions at once, it's like trying to cross a cobblestone street blind drunk in stiletto heels. Fortunately, a waist-high pile of old Celeb magazines breaks my fall.

The tremor ends just seconds after it starts, but a dry fog of lead paint dust continues to sift down from the ceiling. I wait a minute to make sure the ground isn't going to start moving again, then limp over to turn on the clock radio next to the futon couch. A male DJ's voice blares out in midstream.

" . . . is roughly equivalent to dropping a bowling ball off the Eiffel Tower. Please remember that phones should be used only in the case of an emergency, and not to call up the station and request the 'Earthquake Song' by the Little Girls. Let me also remind the two or three of you who haven't heard this before to refrain from firing up that crack pipe until you're absolutely positively sure you don't smell gas, to boil any tap water before drinking, and to slip on those Uggboots before strolling over the broken glass and shards of jagged metal that most likely carpet your floor. . . . In other disaster news, one of our deservedly unpaid interns managed to spill wheat grass juice in all three CD players, so I'll be dipping into the vinyl vaults as we wait with bated breath for the always riveting Cal Tech report. . . ."

X's "Los Angeles" starts crackling through the clock radio speaker. I turn up the volume, and take a minute to look around at the disaster that was once my apartment.

Dirty plates and cereal bowls are stacked everywhere, improvised ashtrays spill out over piles of old tabloid magazines, and layers of spattered paint cake the hardwood floor in a riot of clown colors. For the past two weeks I haven't seen my boyfriend, Javier, haven't checked the mail, haven't left the apartment for more than half an hour at a time. For the past week I've been too nauseated to eat anything but Trader Joe's pot stickers. And for the past three days I haven't changed out of my paint-spattered black T-shirt and jeans. All of this the result of my attempt to (in the words of my sociopathic art dealer Juan Dahlman) "launch my meteoric rise to fame."

Of course, in addition to the mess are the five new canvases that Dahlman plans to sell for a whopping fifty thousand dollars apiece come my opening Sunday afternoon (he claims Sunday afternoon is the new Thursday). Paintings I originally conceived as a satiric bayonet into the partially hydrogenated heart of contemporary society, but which my two-hundred-dollar-an-hour media training coach has reprogrammed me to call "transcendently kitschy."

Propped against my desk is Raphael's Madonna and Child with the original faces replaced by Britney Spears and her son Sean. Hanging over the futon is David's The Death of Marat featuring a turbaned and bloody Kurt Cobain in the bathtub. And on the easel itself is American Gothic redone with a smiling Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. As usual, the reproductions are technically flawless (with the exception, obviously, of the celebrity substitutions). I suppose if my new career as a sellout artist/media whore implodes, I can always move to Ibiza and become a professional forger.

The aftershock scattered my paintbrushes all over the floor, so I pick them up and carry them into the bathroom to clean. A new earthquake crack has appeared, running diagonally across the mildewed blue shower tile, but the two finished canvases I did with cobalt drier are still miraculously balanced on the towel rack. Placing the brushes in a coffee can on the soap dish ledge, I turn on the faucet. Rust-colored water spurts down into the basin, stops, then starts again with a shuddering of pipes, only to begin immediately pooling up from the paint-clogged drain. I shut the faucet back off, grab a bottle of "ecofriendly" drain cleaner from the ledge of the toilet, and pour the last of it in.

It takes a full minute of staring at the gaunt woman's face in the mirror above the sink for me to recognize it. My skin has drained from what I've always thought of as an SPF 15 pale to a tubercular pallor, my cheeks have sunken in painfully, and the dark circles under my eyes now match my black hair and T-shirt. Jesus, even my eyes themselves seem to be darkening.

The sink finally drains, and I'm about to begin cleaning the brushes, when there's a knock at the front door.

"Isabel? You in there? It's Chris," the superintendent calls from outside in the hall.

"Uh . . . yes." I head back into the living room and turn down the clock radio.

"You mind if I talk to you?"

"I'm kind of painting right now."

"No problem, I understand completely. I only wanted to tell you that I'll try and do something about the smell once they're finished with the structural tests."

Curiosity overwhelming creativity, I drop my brush back in the coffee can and walk over to the door, debating whether to open it.

"What structural tests?"

"Downstairs. You know, in the basement. They're checking the foundation."

I finally give in and tentatively open the door. Chris is in his late thirties, but suffers from an odd tapirlike downturn to his nose and face that emphasizes the severity of his receding hairline and makes him look far older. He's dressed in the usual blue jumpsuit and steel-toed Doc Martens work boots, but has an uncharacteristic cigarette sagging awkwardly out of the side of his mouth. Back in the '70s he was the child sidekick on a dreadful karate-themed TV show that, along with an . . .


Excerpted from The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse by Jonathan Selwood Copyright © 2007 by Jonathan Selwood. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Jonathan Selwood grew up in Hollywood. He received an MFA from Columbia University and is married and lives in Portland, OR.

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