Beneath the glamour of Hollywood lies an ineffable sadness, a commonplace notion that this occasionally amusing novel both belabors and mocks. As the cult master of high-concept fictional subversion, the prolific Palahniuk (Pygmy, 2009, etc.) has his typical fun here, though the thinness of character and lack of narrative momentum that are part of the plan might try the reader's patience. Within "this silly motion picture we call human history," the tarnished heroine is aging Katherine "Miss Kathie" Kenton, whose riveting violet eyes and multiple marriages might tempt some to recall Elizabeth Taylor. The narrator is Hazie Coogan, who tells the story in terms of acts and scenes, with flashbacks and voice-overs. And who is Hazie? Not exactly a housekeeper or personal assistant to Miss Kathie. Perhaps a confidante or nursemaid. Certainly the second banana. "I was Thelma Ritter before Thelma Ritter was Thelma Ritter," she writes, or rather Palahniuk writes, only in the novel each reference to Thelma Ritter is in boldface. As is every other proper name, most of them recognizable ("Lilly" Hellman, Coco Chanel, Ronald Reagan), and product name. Both the novel's title and the boldface recall the golden age of the gossip columnist, with the author having great sport with the wordplay that once filled the columns of Walter Winchell, Hedda Hopper and the like. Every ex-husband, of whom Miss Kathie has many, is a "was-band," while a book about such a star might be a "bile-ography." As a younger Lothario vies to become the next Mr. Kathie, he is writing a memoir that will be far more marketable after her death. Or is he? Among the meta-fictional challenges the reader must confront within thisnarrative within a narrative within a narrative is what kind of book is Hazie writing (and we are reading). Meanwhile, the wordplay amuses. Those who aren't sure what they're in for with Palahniuk won't want to start here.
Palahniuk's rude sendup of name-dropping and the culture of celebrity worship revolves around the fate of Katherine Kenton, a much-married star of stage, screen, and television, living in obscurity and searching for a comeback vehicle. Her story is told by Mazie Coogan—her Thelma Ritterish, straight-shooting confidant and protector—whose warning system sounds when Miss Kathie meets Webster Carlton Westward III, who quickly seduces his way into her Manhattan townhouse. It's soon revealed he's working on a memoir about his affair with Miss Kathie, the last chapter of which ends with her anticipated death, the details of which keep changing. The affair coincides with Miss Kathie's comeback in a bombastic Broadway extravaganza penned by Lillian Hellman (who receives inexplicably savage treatment). Throughout, Palahniuk drops names from the famous to the head-scratchingly obscure, peppers the narrative with neologisms supposedly coined by famous gossip columnists (ex-husbands are “was-bands”), and annoyingly styles the text so that nearly every name, brand name, and fabulous venue appears in bold. Unfortunately, this gossipy fantasia is a one-joke premise that, even at its modest length, wears out its welcome well before Miss Kathie's final fade-out. (May)