Shining City

( 4 )


When Marcus Ripps inherits the escort service operated by his derelict brother, he has no idea what he's getting into. He's much too philosophical, honest, and hard-working to be a pimp, and yet before long, he's able to pay off his creditors, revitalize his marriage, get a new BMW, and give his son a bar mitzvah he'll never forget. The only question now is: can he keep this business going long enough to change his life? Or will the cops get to him first?

A wild, satiric, ...

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Shining City: A Novel

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When Marcus Ripps inherits the escort service operated by his derelict brother, he has no idea what he's getting into. He's much too philosophical, honest, and hard-working to be a pimp, and yet before long, he's able to pay off his creditors, revitalize his marriage, get a new BMW, and give his son a bar mitzvah he'll never forget. The only question now is: can he keep this business going long enough to change his life? Or will the cops get to him first?

A wild, satiric, insightful, and hysterical romp, Shining City is an L.A. adventure that will keep you guessing to the very end.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Greenland's uproarious second novel (after The Bones ) follows the manifold ups and downs of Marcus Ripps, an unemployed and ill-fated altruist who inherits from his estranged brother an escort service run out of a Hollywood dry cleaning shop. Burdened by mounting debt and his chilly wife, Jan, and concerned that he won't be able to pay for his son's bar mitzvah, Marcus decides to become a pimp. With assistance from Kostya, his brother's former bodyguard, Marcus not only keeps the business afloat, he improves it and offers the prostitutes health insurance and retirement plans. After a john dies handcuffed to a bed, Marcus enlists Jan's help to dump the body. Eager to work with her husband, Jan joins the company, a move that improves their marriage and business, as the Smart Tarts (as Jan names the service) becomes a Web-based cash cow. (Even Jan's ailing mother gets involved.) Things turn around for the Ripps, but trouble comes when a rival pimp threatens Marcus's life. Despite some predictable plot twists and the requisite Hollywood ending, Greenland's novel is entertaining and intelligent, and packed with enough hooks (and hookers) to keep readers sucked in to the last page. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

When his estranged brother Julian dies, Marcus Ripps inherits his dry-cleaning business. This is good news for Marcus, as the factory he manages is moving from Southern California to China, his wife Jan's trendy boutique business is losing money, his son wants an upscale bar mitzvah, and his mother-in-law needs health care. He soon discovers that the dry-cleaning business is a front for an escort service complete with hookers and a bodyguard, but despite his naïveté, Marcus decides to give it a shot using a business model that includes health care and benefits. It isn't long before problems pop up, such as a dead client, threats from a rival service, and problems with explaining to his wife about those calls at all hours of the night. Greenland (The Bones) plays with Marcus's predicament of balancing his straight family life with his illegal business activities, constantly surprising the reader with the reactions of his wife, his mother-in-law, and his wife's business partner as they all eventually discover his secret. Although the book discusses the morality of prostitution, Greenland keeps the narrative focused on Marcus's growing problems living out his brother's legacy. Recommended.
—Joshua Cohen

Kirkus Reviews
Rarely do novels that are so ruthlessly satiric have such a warm heart. In his second novel on the mores of Los Angeles (The Bones, 2005), playwright and screenwriter Greenland achieves a deft balance between the preposterous and the plausible, recognizing that what often seems like the former to the rest of the country is business as usual in the land of show biz and breast implants. The prologue launches the narrative with a comic death, as a fat man emerges from a hot tub with two prostitutes, after performing "an aquatic Kama Sutra," and suffers a fatal heart attack. The novel then shifts to his younger brother Marcus, who seems to be almost as much of a saint as his brother was a sinner, and who has been estranged from his brother for years. Yet virtue plainly hasn't proven to be its own reward for Marcus, whose wife has no interest in having sex with him, and who owes his livelihood to a boyhood friend whose avaricious instincts have made him extremely wealthy. Like a good news/bad news joke, Marcus receives the word that his employer is shifting its manufacturing to China, just as he learns that his brother has died and left him his dry-cleaning business. Yet this isn't just any dry-cleaning business, for the Shining City is a front for one of the leading escort services in West Hollywood, thus turning Marcus into a most unlikely pimp. The comedy intensifies as Marcus stops hiding his new occupation and learns how eager family and friends are to participate in the enterprise, since prostitution isn't really that much of a departure from the values by which so many of them support themselves and lead their lives. One character's adage that "[t]he world is made up of masters andslaves" proves hilariously prophetic in this novel about a "Family-values" pimp. Film rights to Warner Bros. Agent: Henry Dunow/Dunow, Carlson & Lerner
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596915046
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 7/8/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Seth Greenland is the author of The Bones. An award-winning playwright, he has also written extensively for film and television.

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Read an Excerpt

Shining City A Novel
By Seth Greenland BLOOMSBURY
Copyright © 2008
Seth Greenland
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59691-504-6

Chapter One The previous April, Julian's younger brother was attending a bar mitzvah in a ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Marcus Ripps was an unassuming height, trim, and possessed of such conventionally pleasant looks that you could watch the man commit a crime and not be able to identify him. He had brown, slightly wavy hair that he kept short and dark eyes hooded by a thoughtful brow, knitted lately as the complications of an ordinary life began to add up. His lips were often curled in a sardonic smile, and they were surrounded by smoothly shaven cheeks ready to sprout a beard thick as winter if he didn't shave. Not exactly handsome, Marcus exuded an ineffable goodness and his open expression and easy manner made him a well-liked man.

As he gazed around the capacious room, he noticed an expansive stairwell sweeping down from a magnificent pair of gilded faux doors and marveled that so much attention could be lavished on something with no discernible function. It lent the room the feeling of a stage set, which made sense to Marcus, who was acting the part of someone enjoying himself. Around him, several hundred expensively dressed revelers floated among tables laden with lobster, prime rib, cracked crab, caviar, champagne, and a scale model of the Staples Center built entirely out of sushi. Two chocolate fountains gushed toward the ornate ceiling. Elaboratefloral arrangements flown in from Japan sweetened the filtered air. In one corner a famous professional wrestler was signing autographs for the younger guests. In another, a photographer from Vanity Fair shot portraits of the attendees, and a video crew roamed freely, taping the event for posterity.

Marcus didn't care much for this kind of bar mitzvah. He believed the intended function had been leached by a combination of a society that stripped most spiritual practices of meaning, and the bar mitzvah boy's craving for lucre and a celebration. It was an empty exercise in his view, an opportunity for the hosts to throw a wedding-sized parry for two hundred and fifty of their closest friends. The guests put on their best clothes, ate fine food, and behaved as if they were at a fund-raiser for a trendy disease that just happened to feature klezmer music during the cocktail hour. That Marcus was consuming a succulent hors d'oeuvre lamb chop served from a silver tray by a kohl-eyed aspiring porn star did nothing to mitigate this thought.

His antipathy for these events had not been a lifelong condition. Growing up in a home where no formal religion was practiced, Marcus had envied the Jews their bar mitzvahs, the Catholics their communions, the Mayans their human sacrifices. Anyone who chose to plumb the depths of the universe in a ritualistic manner was all right with him. Marcus was a deontologist, a believer in unbendable rules. Religion had rules, ergo it was good. Alas, the requisite belief in God made it more complicated for him. But Marcus wasn't thinking about eschatology right now. What he was thinking about, as he watched an animal trainer in gold lamé harem pants and a bejeweled turban give children rides on a baby elephant, was this: the Mississippi River could be re-routed for what they're spending today.

He looked out over the crowd and self-consciously fingered the lapel of his six-year-old blue suit. A discernible run had developed in the left sleeve.

"I want to ask who their caterer is, not that we could afford them." This was his wife Jan, nibbling on a lamb bone with no remaining traces of animal flesh. She wore a knitted blazer composed of innumerable variations of the color red, over a fitted white blouse. A pleated knee-length black wool skirt showed off shapely calves curving into black pumps. Jan co-owned a local boutique and was a walking advertisement for their clothes: trendy, but not aggressively so, fashion-hipster on a budget. She had wide hazel eyes, delicately shadowed this evening, a creamy complexion slightly tanned in the manner of all southern Californians who don't habitually avoid the sun, a medium-sized nose the contours of which she had never considered altering (nor did she need to), and lips she thought were a little too thin but in actuality worked in concert with the rest of her physiognomy to produce a picture of forthright, if not overwhelming, attractiveness. She kept herself firm at the local branch of an affordable chain health club, and Marcus often thought that if she walked past him on the street, he would turn around for a second look. Despite this, they hadn't had sex in over a month, a source of increasing consternation for him.

Along with the hundreds of celebrants, Marcus and Jan were patiently awaiting the entrance of the bar mitzvah boy, Takeshi Primus. Although Marcus had grown up with Takeshi's father Roon, he was here now because he worked for him, not because Roon had invited old friends. Roon Primus had hit it big in the novelty end of the toy manufacturing business, a success he had parlayed into other, nontoy-related activities, and had ascended to fawning profiles in business journals and a palatial home in Bel Air, far above their scrappy origins. Marcus, who was the production manager at the only one of Roon's factories still in the continental United States, had not. So there were all the mixed feelings that working for an old friend could engender. Marcus was alternately grateful to be the beneficiary of Roon's loyalty and, when he listened to the whispers of darker voices, resentful that his situation required it. Inwardly, although he would never acknowledge it, he was ashamed that he had not gone out on his own and made an entrepreneurial success of himself, as his father, who owned a shoe store in Seal Beach, had wished.

Marcus had been a better student than Roon, who considered school nothing more than a way station on the path to his platinum destiny. Upon graduation from high school Roon had enrolled at Cal State, Fullerton, where he'd earned a business degree of no distinction. Marcus had majored in philosophy at Berkeley. He worked at the college radio station and for a time thought he might pursue a career as a disc jockey, one of those late-night denizens of the low-frequency world who plays music by bands nobody's heard of and whines about how the "corporatocracy" has taken over the world. This plan lasted until he discovered that those positions generally came without salaries.

When Marcus got out of college (B.A., cum laude) he found he had a talent for getting jobs, just not particularly good ones, which is to say anything with a future attached. So while working as an orderly in a hospital and sending fifty letters out, he finally found himself in the glamorous communications industry selling cable television subscriptions door-to-door in East Los Angeles. He dutifully read the want ads in the paper each day, and after four months of traipsing through the barrio hawking premium packages to querulous Mexicans (many of whom thought he was working for the Immigration and Naturalization Service and refused to open the door), managed to land a job in sales at a small AM station that was playing Top 40 hits in the twilight of the format. Marcus had moved home after college, and the commute From San Pedro to their Glendale offices was ninety minutes each way. He didn't like the job, but he had no idea what else to do. Unlike Roon, he lacked a grand plan, a vision. Everything he did was a placeholder for he didn't know what, and while casting about for his next opportunity he made a sales call to a clothing store called Changes on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena and spoke to the manager, Jan Griesbach. Although the store did not have the budget to advertise on the radio station, Jan was charmed by his self-deprecating sales pitch, and when he asked her out she quickly said yes. Jan's arrival took care of his personal life, but he was still dissatisfied in his job. As he was unhappily thrashing out a solution in between telephone pitches, he received a call from Roon, who needed to replace a production manager at a Factory in the northern reaches of the San Fernando Valley. Roon wanted someone he could trust. Now Marcus had been working for his friend nearly fifteen years, and although he would have liked to do something more exciting than make toys, he knew it would be churlish to complain.

Marcus assumed his own anodyne biography was far less impressive than those of the swells swirling around him and Jan at the bar mitzvah. It was a prosperous crowd and their expensive clothes, complexions, and teeth reflected an enviable absence of financial worries. Though he would have been loath to admit it, he was uncomfortable and slightly intimidated.

"Dad, check this out!" Marcus looked down and saw his son Nathan displaying a henna tattoo of a smiling young woman in a bikini on his forearm. The words HELLO, SAILOR were stenciled above her head. Nathan was an eleven-year-old slip of a boy, small for his age, whose most salient feature was his wide mouth, where his blue braces contained enough metal to craft a small suspension bridge.

Jan craned her neck to see the tattoo and began to laugh.

"Can we get the tattoo dude to come to my bar mitzvah?" Nathan said. Although Marcus was not Jewish, his wife was. Like her husband, Jan was not religious, but Nathan had asked to have a bar mitzvah and his parents, after much discussion (mostly about whether they could afford the party), had decided to accommodate his request.

Nathan pointed, and Marcus swung his eyes to a corner of the room. What appeared to be a bearded, three-hundred-pound motorcycle gang member was stenciling a tattoo of a snake curled around an apple next to the spaghetti strap on the bare shoulder of a ten-year-old girl.

"So, can we hire the dude?" Nathan asked. Marcus smiled and shook his head in a way intended to convey amusement at the question, but gave no hint of a real answer. Nathan, his receptors pulsating in anticipation of his own bacchanal, ran off before Marcus had a chance to reply.

Marcus had heard plenty of stories of local bar mitzvahs: the Laker Girls gyrating to "Hava Nagila"; a boy entering his circus-tented reception borne aloft in a fringed carriage by four steroid-engorged, silver-thonged Nubians whose bulging muscles glistened beneath the ten-thousand-dollar lighting design; a proud father, who held the patent to a Velcro-like material, had reconfigured, flooded, then frozen a ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel, giving everyone ice skates as party favors and presiding over a Winter Extravaganza. This wasn't the circle in which the Ripps family moved-the spare-no-expense world of the grandiose gesture. They had heard about these events and had been thinking Roon Primus would do something equally opulent and frivolous. But Marcus and Jan were surprised, maybe even a little disappointed, when he proved a more tasteful host than anticipated, the half-naked woman on their son's slender forearm and the baby elephant notwithstanding.

Roon was placing a big hand on his shoulder now and kissing Jan on the cheek as he thanked them for coming.

"I liked your speech," Marcus told Roon, who had given a sentimental talk about his son at the service that morning and seemed nearly on the verge of tears in doing so.

"I had one of my corporate communications guys write it. He clarified how I felt." Roon's voice was deep and resonant. Even when he spoke quietly, it seemed to boom. He whispered in Marcus's ear: "Don't think I don't know this whole deal is bullshit. But you gotta give the people what they want, and you try and get some good out of it. You're doing a bar mitzvah, right?"

"You're on the guest list."

Roon magnanimously ignored the social equality implied in Marcus's statement.

"Kyoko looks beautiful," Jan said. Kyoko was Roon's tall, slim, and elegant Japanese-American wife, who at that moment could be seen posing for the Vanity Fair photographer beneath a life-sized ice sculpture of her son.

Roon thanked Jan with a distracted nod. He was a big man, over six feet, and weighed nearly two hundred pounds. His real name was Ronald, which he found pompous and old-fashioned. He'd been given the name Roon in high school by a friend who was so stoned that his brain had misfired, and instead of Ron the word Roon tripped off his coated tongue. Marcus wasn't surprised at how easily Ron Primus let go of his name, encouraging everyone to call him Roon, even his teachers. Roon knew how to let go of things, move on, as his previous wife would have been happy to attest.

Roon's hand felt heavy on Marcus's shoulder, where he had left it a little longer than Marcus would have liked. Then, suddenly, it was gone. Roon greeted a tall, elegantly dressed man with a smile like a cash register. It took Marcus a moment to realize that it was the governor of California. Marcus listened to their conversation for a moment (reminiscing about a conference in Davos), then, when it became apparent that he was now invisible, turned his attention back to Jan. She shook her head at the politician's rudeness, but before she could say what she was thinking the overhead lights (cued by an unseen and well-paid stage manager) dimmed, and a spotlight hit a DJ who was standing in the middle of the dance floor. He was a youngish, grinning Caucasian, with thick curly hair and a Chiclet grin, in a white suit over a black silk T-shirt and two-toned, black-and-white wingtips. Crackling with nervous energy, he waved his hand like a wand and parted the buoyant revelers.

When the DJ intoned "Let's kick it old school!" barely audible music gave way to the overly familiar thumping bass and drum of the hip-hop nation, now expanded to include seemingly every white child in America, and the recorded voice of a rapper, whose shrewdest career move involved getting shot, began to discourse at great length, and with appropriate sound effects, about his scrotum. The toothy DJ had the guests clapping along to the admittedly infectious song when another spotlight illuminated the faux doors at the head of the stairwell, and they turned out to not be faux at all. The doors, bright lights bouncing off their gold veneer, burst open to reveal a thirteen-year-old, barely five feet tall, Takeshi Primus, grinning maniacally. But Takeshi was not alone. On each arm was a motivational dancer, a professional let's-get-this-party-started girl whose job consisted of dragging funk-impaired guests onto the dance floor, where they endeavored, through a combination of bumping, grinding, and generally exhorting, to ramp the energy of the event up to the desired level of hysteria. Clad in skintight spandex catsuits, these women each held one of the Amerasian bar mitzvah boy's arms and, to the adoring cheers of the assembled guests, together led him down the grand staircase and into the roiling maw of his celebration.

Marcus took in the spectacle with stunned disbelief. He looked at his wife, who didn't return his glance, so amazed was she by the picture of the prepubescent Takeshi strutting between the adult women. As the crowd continued to applaud, the music increased in volume. Takeshi and his escorts reached the floor, and the trio danced together for a moment, the boy doing a slightly spastic amalgamation of the moves he'd seen in videos. The women enthusiastically followed along, then encouraged the surging throng to join them on the dance floor. Meanwhile, the rapper had reached the refrain of his song, so as the happy partygoers moved as one in a celebratory mosh, the incantational words thrusting from the speakers were:

She a ho, she a ho, she a mothafuckin' ho, ho-ohhh ...

Chapter Two No one aspired to live in Van Nuys. In a gamy corner of the San Fernando Valley, it was a hardscrabble neighborhood of mini-malls, fast-food joints, and cheap motels with rooms by the hour. The air was thick with skyborne detritus, and in the summer the mercury spiked to a hundred and twenty degrees. The people who resided there were mostly hard-working Hispanics who wanted a better life for their families, preferably somewhere with less gunfire. But on the western reaches was an enclave of several streets where the lawns were wider, the houses larger, and the occupants slightly more prosperous. No one here belonged to a country club, but neither did they fear that the finance company was going to repossess their pickup truck. This is where the Ripps family lived, in a two-story, three-bedroom house at 112 Magdalene Lane.


Excerpted from Shining City by Seth Greenland
Copyright © 2008 by Seth Greenland. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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