About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Place of Birth:Chico, California
Education:G.E.D., 1984; attended San Francisco State University
Read an Excerpt
Colors Insulting to Nature
Part I: Are You There, God? It's Me, Liza
July 23, 1981, Novato,CA
The faces of the judges revealed, although they were trying to hide it, deep distaste for the fact that the thirteen-year- old girl in front of them had plucked eyebrows and false eyelashes. Something about her well-worn miniature stiletto heels and her backless black evening dressside slit up to the fishnet hip, with rhinestone spaghetti strapswas unsavory to them. The girl looked way too comfortable. Equally unsettling was her performance.
". . . and now, I'd like to perform a little something by someone who has been a huge influence on my work. This lady has the most incredible pipes in the business. I'm speaking, of course, of Ms. Barbra Streisand. Vincent?" she asked, addressing the horrified pianist, who was busying himself with the mosaic of colorful buttons on his Yamaha DX-7 that promised such sounds as "oboe" and "tympani."
"Could you give me 'Clear Day' in F, sugar? You're too good to me." The child took the microphone and Cher-ishly flipped back a long strand of zigzag crimped hair with fuchsia fingernails as the pianist rolled into the opening bars. Her vibrato, though untrained (learned, most likely, by imitating ecstatic car commercials) was as tight, small, and regular as the teeth on pinking shears.
"On a Cleee-yah Daaaaaaaaaaayy T'Wheel Asssssh-TOUNDYewww . . . thank you," she spoke, as if the judges had just broken into spontaneous applause.
The mother, visible mouthing the lyrics from the wings in an exaggerated fashion, was clearly responsible for this travesty, this premature piano-bar veteran of a youngster.
"Yew can sheeeee Fah-REVAH, ond EVAH."
The moderately talented girl was emoting with her hands, seemingly tweezing the adult male heart out of its sexual prison with her kitten claws, all too professionally. The judges squirmed in their seats, intensely disliking the thought of their own daughters or nieces belting out a song in this seamy, overwrought fashionparroting the stage acts of overripe chanteuses, moist with the rot of numerous alcoholic disappointments in both Love and Life. The mother would probably be devastated if her child didn't land the gig . . . she might, in fact, lock herself in an all-peach-colored bedroom and wash down handfuls of muscle relaxants with cheap Polish vodka from a plastic handlejug; her unfortunate daughter would be left for days without milk and forced to eat lipstick. It was this thought that brought large grimaces of feigned appreciation to the faces of the judges as the girl collapsed into the bow as if she'd just wrung every drop of hot life out of herself and was now utterly spent. She blew a few kisses toward the judges and urged them to "give themselves a hand."
The mother, whose diaphanous, mango-colored pantsuit was trumped in visual loudness only by the Louis IVstyle stack of conical curls on her strawberry-blonde wig, came forward and shook the girl playfully.
"Say goodbye to the nice judges, Liza," she mewed.
"Goodbye to the nice judges, Liza," the girl cracked, with a wink.
"Go outside and amuse yourself while Mommy talks grown-up-talk."
Liza pouted theatrically, then waved bye-bye to the group of middle-aged men as she wobbled on her heels out of the conference room. Seconds later Liza was visible through the one-way windows on the lawn of the industrial park, trying to swing on one of the large, nautically themed boat chains that roped off the parking lot. As she yanked one of the nagging rhinestone straps back up onto her porcelain doll-shoulder, the judges were petrified with worry that the miniature disco Lolita would be spotted from the freeway by a predator on a quest for this particular banquet of perversion, who would swoop down the on-ramp and yank the spangled child into a dirty van. The girl seemed blithely unaware of such dangers and, as evidenced by the trembling of her lower lip, was apparently singing again at top volume as she jerked back and forth on the heavy chain.
Peppy Normal took a spread-eagled stand in front of the judge's foldout table with her hands on her hips. Her mouth unfolded into a glossed, yellow alligator-smile.
"She nailed it, didn't she. You know she nailed it."
"We have a lot of kids to see before we decide anything, Mrs. Normal."
"Boys, for Chrissake, it's a TV commercial, not a goddamn Nobel Prize. Just cut to the chase and tell me: did she nail it, or what?"The colorless klatch of balding men looked at each other helplessly and squirmed in their orange plastic seats. The bravest among them spoke candidly.
"The spokes-child that the OtterWorld Fun Park is looking for . . . how can I say this . . . we were maybe thinking of a kid who is a little less sophisticated."
"You wanted Shirley Temple schtick? I thought you were looking for talent."
Liza had given up trying to swing on the sunbaked chain and was now pressing her nose and forehead against the tinted window. Peering in, she could make out her mother violently gesticulating at the cringing group of men. Two of the judges glanced miserably out the window at her; her Nude Beige pancake makeup had made a small figure- 8-shaped smear on the smoked glass. Liza saw her mother grab her oversize, gold-buckled handbag and storm out of the room. Knowing her cue, Liza smiled and waved goodbye through the window again and tottered through the grass toward the car...Colors Insulting to Nature
A Novel. Copyright © by Cintra Wilson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Reading Group Guide
Liza Normal wants fame worse than air, food, sleep, or self-preservation. Her talents are slim, but she's been raised on a crash diet of Hollywood "I-can-do-it!" mythology, game-show anthems, and Love's Baby Soft-scented teen dreams. According to the delusional logic inherent in these value-starved sources, the key to Making It Big as a pop star is to simply want it badly enough and Believe in Yourself (and to follow the B-movie template for becoming one of life's golden winners). And so, innocent Liza's disco-ball fantasies are bowled down the yellow brick road, on a direct collision course with that whirling hall of hammers, Reality. She endures a wretched series of mishaps on the road to failure: disastrous love-affairs, scorching humiliations. But Liza, a far better human than the two-dimensional starlet she thinks she wants to be, is indestructible. When she finally surrenders to non-celebrity and embraces her marginal status, she is able to exact a ferocious and pure revenge on the formulaic clichés that screwed her up in the first place.
In Colors Insulting To Nature, Cintra Wilson has fused a hilarious yet strangely touching coming-of-age story, a picaresque romp, and a blistering satire of our celebrity-debased culture. Not since John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, Martin Amis's Money or, yes, Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel has an antihero peeled away the lamination of our society with such savage glee and empathy.
Questions for Discussion
- Why does Liza insist on believing that her big break is always just around the corner? What makes her so resilient?
- During thenovel, Liza is transformed from outcast high schooler to an icon for cultural depravity on the Vegas strip. Discuss how each of the men she encounters along the way -- Tonto, ChoCho, DelVonn, Greycoat, Bernardo, Butch Strange and Roland -- contribute to her metamorphosis. How else does Liza change throughout the course of this novel? Does she mature?
- Liza turns a deaf ear to DelVonn when he calls after his spat with Cupcake. She also encourages Bernardo to sing at a party where he is ridiculed and subsequently falls off the wagon. Is Liza a sensitive person? Should she have been a better friend to DelVonn and Bernando? Could she have helped them?
- Ned Normal avoids the spotlight, yet he is reluctantly catapulted into the limelight. By contrast, Liza craves fame, yet struggles to achieve it. Does Ned deserve to be famous? Does Liza?
- At Hadrian's party, Liza is thrown together with celebrity wannabees, druggies, and former child stars. She observes "though everyone was unreasonably good-looking and well-dressed, they seemed hollow and desperate." (p. 74) Does Liza envy or pity these people? Why doesn't her realization about their desperation make her abandon her quest for fame?
- At one point, Peppy says to Liza and Ned, "Well, I did it. You kids are both successful artists." To what extent can Peppy take credit for her children's success? Do you sympathize with her?
- Images of antlers and the golden stag appear throughout the novel, particularly in relation to Roland Spring. When Liza finally has Roland to herself, she realizes that he will never carry her away in "the cradle built for her between his splendid antlers." Why does Liza idolize Roland Spring? What does the golden stag represent? In general, what role does mythology play in this novel?
- Why does Liza refuse to acknowledge the fact that she created Venal de Minus? Can you draw any parallels between Liza's journey to find her true destiny and Dorothy's journey to Oz?
- Do you like it when the author speaks directly to the reader? How do these asides advance the plot and set the novel's tone? Are they effective?
- What is the author saying about the role of fame in our culture? Is this a satire or coming-of-age novel or both? How would you describe this novel to a friend? What are some of your favorite moments?
About the Author
Cintra Wilson, playwright, essayist and former columnist for salon.com, and the San Francisco Examiner, dares to confront our national obsession with celebrity head on. Her voice is fresh, frank, funny, bold, brutal, vulgar and wild as she launches what one admirer refers to as a "literary air strike on our culture." A social commentator par excellence, Wilson has gathered rave reviews for her book of essays, A Massive of Swelling: Celebrity Reexamined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease and Other Cultural Revelations. She has collaborated with legendary director Francis Ford Coppola and had her work produced by Tim Robbins' Actor's Gang theater company in Los Angeles. Her character Winter Steele was a long-running segment of MTV's "Liquid Television" series. Colors Insulting to Nature is Wilson's debut novel. She lives in New York City.