Hollywood Savage

A Novel

About The Book

A scalding exploration of love, marriage, fidelity, and betrayal.

            “Meet me at five,”
the voice said on the answering machine.  Four ordinary words yet, when heard by the wrong person, enough to change the course of a marriage.
             Marooned in Hollywood while writing a screenplay based on his latest bestselling novel, Miles King records in his journals his escalating conviction that his glamorous wife, a New York-based journalist named Maggie, is having an affair with Miles’s favorite student.  
            Amidst the sun-buffed egos and the longing for connection and fame he encounters at every cocktail party and no-name bar in Hollywood, Miles finds unexpected comfort in an affair of his own with Lucy, a young mother whose open, eager mind sparks an irresistible passion in him. A potent brew of lust, guilt, anger, and betrayal, Miles’s journals reveal his constantly shifting emotional state and the perils he must navigate as his fantasies become increasingly hard to distinguish from reality.
            In Hollywood Savage, acclaimed novelist Kristin McCloy probes one modern man’s psychological depths with stunning accuracy, and illuminates the ways men and women try desperately to reveal themselves to one another, while still always keeping a part of their hearts a secret.  

Kristin McCloy was born in San Francisco and spent her childhood in Spain, India, and Japan.  A graduate of Duke University, she is the author of the novels Velocity and Some Girls.  Her novels have been published in more than fifteen countries.  She currently lives in Oakland, California.

Excerpt

NOTHING so blinding as a simple piece of white paper. Haven’t begun, still waiting for the phrase that comes from somewhere else—the one that surprises when later read. Of course, no one knows better than a writer the myth of inspiration (or, as Stephen Crane observed, “inspiration’s nice, but it’s good to be sitting at the typewriter when it happens”). The real work is the keyboard, the chair, an empty room, a silent phone; the stack of books, those you admire most—the only company allowed. (The pain of such deliberate deprivation, day after day. After day. And how, months into it, you sit at a dinner party empty of comment, your own life peopled by characters only you know.)

Walking around town, making calls, drinking coffee, going out—feeding the bank, the question nags, or simply procrastination?

I rifle my bookshelves, glancing at random pages, hoping something—anything—will spark. At the very least, sifting through the collection for my heroes—in particular, the ones who might help me now; with this. (Bukowski, Gogol, Salter, Duras. Vonnegut, Salinger, Phillips, Hempel. Jones, Bass, Carver, Moore.) The ones who have taught (and continue teaching) me whatever I do know. Among which is that the beginning cannot be ground out, thought through, reasoned with; it comes from someplace else—surfacing, I think, or maybe I mean alighting—whether it comes from above or below, all I know is the beginning has to soar; has to begin that inner high-wire act, all the while knowing that every word must be worthy of somebody—of anybody—else’s eyes.

When I refused to sign with the studio unless I was given the right to do my own adaptation (or got first shot, anyway, as Maggie immediately pointed out), I was all swagger and master, the cool strut. How hard could it be, I’d thought—then. Now (of course), the effort required looms monumental.

But then, I’ve always balked at beginnings. Fine when I’m in the middle, when I’ve hit my stride, but something about starting strikes me false—the need to work oneself up like a horse behind the gate, rearing before the bell.

Start in the middle, then, my editor suggests. Yes, I think (I’d said)—those suggestions, they sound so simple in his office, the two of us high above midtown, looking down, broad daylight making everything safe, our problems practical, simply requiring solution (“yes, that’s it!”), so that both of us smile, pleased, two colleagues sitting in a room, a gulf of knowledge between us.

Try to talk myself down from the absolute blank of it, the stunned ignorance as to how to proceed. Type, “Exterior, Day,” then sit with my hands on the keyboard, minutes, an endless period of time. “My wife” the single recurring phrase.

It’s three hours later in New York—where everything, as she pointed out to me, happens first. Where is she right now—at the gym, hair pulled into a tight ponytail, she’s stepping, determined, up and up and up, going nowhere, sweat her sole purpose, the single destination; it is, I think, the only mindless thing she does all day.

Outside, the sun shines relentlessly, mocking. How can anyone think seriously in this town—the light crowds everything out, every nuance, every shadow.

Finally leave the hotel, get in the car. Drive up into the hills along Mulholland, see the Hollywood sign, enormous letters crooked on a hill. A town that advertises itself.

Went back down and east on Franklin with no destination until I saw the sign: Griffith Park. Turned on Western and followed the winding road into the canyon and further, all the way to the top. Solitary men parked along the sides, glancing at me, their looks brief but penetrating—am I one of them. Avert my eyes, half-envious, half-aghast at how, left to themselves, men seek sex out like predators, roving anonymous, nothing exchanged but the tacit enactment of some pornographic fantasy, furtive, illegal.

At the top, busloads of tourists unloading before the observatory. Didn’t stop the car, just drove back down, aimlessness like a nervous disorder. Parked at the bottom, near some picnic benches. A woman sitting alone, reading, a child playing at her feet. When I sat at a table nearby, she didn’t even look up.

Took my notebook out, still can’t suppress the wave of self-consciousness inevitably felt when attempting to write in public. Want the solace of other human faces around me, the sense of having escaped solitary confinement, but always end up paralyzed—ultimately, the act too private; feels like sitting on the john with the door open, pretending you don’t care if anyone sees.

I sit hunched over my paper, sunglassed, fraudulent, and all I’m thinking is whether she’s married or not. Does she love her husband. Does she still fuck him when they go to bed at night. Does she look at other men—she hasn’t, as far as I can tell, acknowledged my existence, not even for a second.

But I know how women can be. How Maggie is. Walking down the street, staring straight ahead, she seems oblivious to the men around her, catches everything. Who looks at her, how. That man, she’ll mutter about some Bowery drunk, staggering to gape after her, needs to get some sleep.

Women: they’ve trained themselves to notice everything without ever seeming to look around. To look invites attention, Maggie says, and I get enough unwanted without having to ask for more.

Keep flashing on her that last night, how she changed out of her slouchy clothes before Connor came over, how she darkened her eyes. How every time I sat next to her she jumped up, muttering—check on dinner, she’d say, hate it when the bread gets burned—but then it did, and she forgot dessert altogether…

Sit here now obsessing, can’t shake it, about the way it was—the way she was—that last night in NYC. Coming out of the bedroom when Connor arrived, capable, despite the twelve years we’ve (somehow) stacked between us, of surprising me with her beauty.

She was possessed of an energy she calls forth sometimes, a kind of fire, wild; you can feel it in the air around her, see it in her eyes: it’s a passion, not just for life (life, she likes to say, is drudgery) but for this particular moment, now, and now and now and NOW—so that being with Maggie, when she’s like that, heightens everybody’s awareness, makes people greedy for her, makes them crave proximity—and maybe because it’s not entirely under her control, it makes her giddy, too; it has a sexual edge, always, but it also, especially when we’re with friends, creates a fine, sweet camaraderie.

At home with the two of them that night, like so many other nights before, she was a brilliant thing, my wife, glimpses of her mind like flashes of light, the sting of her wit a fine lash, always balanced by her goofiness (she was Mata Hari with knobby knees, tripping over her own laces).

Giggling, sexy, falling into Connor’s lap, she was the evening’s star, and while it made of us collaborators (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid indulging the woman both adore), none of it was—none of it is—possible for me, neither the intimacy nor the ease, without the absolute certainty, so strong it has its own presence (or so I’ve thought), that come the end of the day, the end of the evening, when she’s tired, when it’s all over—that come the end of everything, the years of our lives themselves—it is, it would have always been—me whom she had entrusted it all to, her secrets and her lies, her brilliance and her bitterness—that it was me and only me who had to know her, to whom she had to tell it all … and me only who kept her warm and sacred and close … so that ultimately it never mattered whose lap she fell into, or upon whose shoulder she momentarily rested her head, because she would still, always, choose me.

Meet me at five, he’d said; that was all.

I can hear the child talking nonsense, singsong, wholly absorbed in his own pretense. The woman seems equally absorbed by her book, I can see the title from where I sit—My Sister and I, it says, and beneath, written like a signature, Friedrich Nietzsche.

It is not, I think, the usual thing.

I turn back to my paper and hear it all again, Connor’s voice on our machine—meet me at five—nothing else (the intimacy of such curtness, such command!).

We rise at the same time, the woman and I, and the unexpected simultaneity of it makes us both look.

Hi, her child says, the greeting so clearly for me I raise my hand in a wave. Hi.

She smiles between us, she seems distracted—by the environment, or maybe something in the book she’s just been reading.

It’s nice out here, I say (immediately think how banal it sounds, not at all what I wanted to say)—

The light here, I say then, surprise myself with the desire to speak, to command her attention.

Where are you from? she asks, all three of us moving toward our cars, her son slightly ahead of her, tugging her forward. She acts unaware of his resistance, she keeps well enough behind me that I cannot see her face.

New York, I say, City.

It’s not like a city here, she says, only looking at me when she’s reached her car, an old Buick from the seventies, its dark green paint rusting off.

No, I say, and feel its urban absence the way amputees must a phantom limb—how radically immediate the streets are the second you step outside, and how human, people brushing past each other in narrow doorways, the comforting inescapability of touch, everyone cowering beneath the same fierce winter, soldiers all, enduring.

But once you get used to the trees, she says, she makes a gesture, then doesn’t finish the sentence, and it is oddly revealing, makes me see her as if for the first time—the oval of her face—her skin, I see only now, luminescent—totally devoid of makeup. We look at each other for a moment, curious, and then her child speaks.

Okay, Mommy, he says, let’s go (three, I’m guessing no older).

Okay, Walter, she says, the casual respect in her tone unusual to hear spoken to a child so young.

Bye, Walter, I say, and he turns around, pleased to hear his name.

Bye, he calls out, so bright I smile, the expression an involuntary reflex.

She drives away first, and I see her plate, one of its corners unscrewed so it spirals out and away from the body of the car, the letters on it an unintelligible row of consonants, a Y and two Rs, an Icelandic rune.

—7 january, Los Angeles

Everything’s different at midnight. The absence of light demands more from you, & writing such a private act, a nocturnal impulse, sexual, hard. I am driven to it by some fury tonight, the fury of energy that grips me when I can’t sleep, and something else—the writer’s fury to get it down.

Since arriving LA, only things I’ve been driven to write are my own wild flights of doubt, bewilderment, pornography—and then, a fury bordering on the murderous (that immediately followed by trepidation, remorse, a persistent sense of the unreal … Maggie and Con. Jesus Christ, it’s an absurdity! Con and Maggie?).

Never! I say to myself, I am beyond sure, I’m reaching for the phone to call, to laugh with her—how ridiculous, these thoughts!—all at once I’m ready to confess just how stupidly I’ve spent my first days “on the coast” … but then, when the phone is in my hand, I’m assaulted by a sudden, unbidden image—

The three of us, we’re saying goodnight—it’s so familiar, Con’s grin at the door, the groan of too much wine—after the martinis, that is, and before that wildly expensive bottle of Cognac Con’d brought (a surprise)—is it a pastiche of every goodnight, or am I editing, inventing their lines, imagining how the scene plays if they are, in fact, lovers (or perhaps they’ve only begun, but still waiting to conduct its consummation—waiting to get rid of the extra man…).

Remember Con reaching for me, urgency masked by self-deprecation (is it for real, then, the muttered “don’t go,” “just stay,” a child grasping after what—after who—is nearly gone? Surely he’s not capable of such emotional deception! Cool he may be, but that kind of liar? Impossible!). The impulsive reach as he grabs my hand (he’s adopted the black half-hug, a one-armed embrace perfect in its ambiguity—how it satisfies men’s need to be close at the same time as we hold ourselves away) and it’s satisfying here, too, natural in a way the pseudo-hug-PAT-PAT-I’M-NOT-A-HOMO!-PAT-PAT-PAT! has never been—and never will be.

It’s only then I recall his last gesture, so unexpected I’d stashed it someplace else—when, even as we came apart, he’d leaned forward again, planting a sudden, nakedly sweet kiss on my cheek—a gesture I found so touching I could only smile, even as I (chickenshit!) automatically reached (Christ and how often I do—how often I did!) for my wife—she who finds no demonstration of love ever awkward, or bizarre, or unwanted (no, we must only—ever!—be delighted).

And yes, there she was, I could see Con’s sweetness mirrored in her eyes, warm and sure as she opened her hand under mine for one brief moment before allowing it to trail off and up, my fingers tracing the length of her arm as she moved away, letting me precede her even as I spoke—to cover (as ever) my sudden flush of feeling with a wry, affectionate tone:

“Say goodnight and come along, darling, the boy has raves and rants awaiting, a crowd of swells and molls, wildbeasties by the dozen, to say nothing of deposed kings and uncrowned queens”—interrupting myself as I warmed to my soliloquy, lowering my brow to glance at him beneath it—“and oh so many fags and faeries, all of whom have no doubt spent the better part of this evening wondering who on earth could possibly lay more claim to L. L. Fauntleroy” (a nickname he despised, but allowed it pass without protest) “than their own entourage…”

Remember how Maggie’d caught my hand just as my fingertips left her shoulder, twisting to smile bewitchingly at me, while in her most rational wifely tone she promised “to just lock up” and then, turning further, in some theatrical play at privacy, added, Warm up the bed for me, won’t you, sweet keep?

Remember my own eye roll as I climbed the stairs away from them (thinking now was it—IS it—possible that she’d thrown that out to be purposely overheard reassuring her dumbfuck husband of her continuing sexual desire?).

If so, what an ass I look to myself now: a fool smiling indulgently as he rounds up a myriad of wine goblets from the various armchairs and cushions, sofas and windowsills, the three of us had lounged on, eaten at, danced atop, argued over, then laughed against …?

No. The only thing I want to get down now is how long it seems—no, not seems, how long it really did, in fact, take—for my wife to actually dispatch that presumptuous fucking brat before she finally decided (with what, I wonder—an arched brow, raised shoulder—that eloquent quasi-European shrug that bespeaks so volubly of the tedium we all must wade through in life?) to visit her presence upon my—upon our—bed, for what we’d both (or so we’d said, building it up three days before I left, whispering nasty words in each other’s ears at the last faculty tea, deliberately abstaining until that bittersweet moment should arrive) been waiting for; “goodbye sex is so—mmmm,” Maggie’d said once—God, years and years ago now—“I like it better than almost anything else.”

Another, wholly unwelcome thought (sure, come on in! Crowd my head, shove any usefully literary ones overboard, then just repeat … repeat … repeat…).

Knock it off, I warn myself, and am rewarded by the sudden certainty that Con is, right now, still awake himself on the other side of this continent, lounging around in some unimaginable (in that I refuse to imagine it) state of undress, doing the exact same thing as me: writing in the notebook I give all my students at the beginning (and end) of every term, with the unending assignment to write down—I’ve said it so many times it’s memorized: “as truthfully, with the fewest words necessary, what happens to you. And by happen I include thoughts, dreams, fantasies, memories, conversations, ideas, even words, that inspire you—write what makes you crazy, what thrills you, what brings you to your knees, what makes you glad to be alive—everything, that is, that might, in any way, be relevant to a writer’s interior life.”

For one white-hot second I am utterly convinced: she is there, my wife, her legs tangled in his scummy sheets, her eyelashes quiet on her cheeks, while he, stupefied with his great fortune, with this surely undeserved conquest, naturally much too excited to sleep, props himself up on one elbow and tries to get every last nuance down—what she said, what he said, how she acquiesced, the shocking silk of her mouth, the satin of her skin, the flax of her hair—

STOP IT.

Stand, pace, sit, stand. Suddenly, have to laugh. What better deus ex machina in these modern times than our goddamn telephone technology—made all the more ironic in that suspicion had nothing to do with why I listened to those messages … no, it was merely stupid, thoughtless habit …!

Called home to leave a message, then unthinkingly, automatically, hit the rewind button. The jolt of his voice, scoured with background traffic, loud in my ear, the half-shout of it:

Meet me at five!

Where, it was my first thought—and then I had to endure the rude interruption of my own voice, mere seconds after his; had to listen to its self-importance from three thousand miles away, a truly nasty joke.

Hung up on myself.

***

It’s two o’clock in the morning and I’m wide awake. Would like to have a drink in some anonymous dark bar, but this town is over, it’s closed, there is no place to go. Turn the television on instead & catch some piece of news about New York, footage—makes me childishly, but no less viscerally, homesick for its press of humanity, even the gridlock of it all. The brash opinions, the contact.

It’s all right there when I close my eyes—my neighborhood, its texture, the colors, the people on the stoops, everything. I have lived there ten years now, I am saturated with it. It extends out from me like some invisible radius, a hologram.

Now I’m in the desert. How appropriate to have been brought to my knees, here.

Turn the TV off, sit there without moving, ages. Occurs to me what a classic, what a cliché, picture I make: man sitting on the edge of his bed in a hotel, wondering if his wife is having an affair.

—8 january, Los Angeles

© 2010 Kristin McCloy

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Hollywood Savage includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kristin McCloy. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 

 

Introduction

Miles King is a well-known author who finds himself headed for the big time when his popular book is pegged to become a film. Holed up in the Hollywood Hills as he works on the first draft of his screenplay, Miles suffers from writer’s block and a host of other insecurities, including the nagging fear that his wife is having an affair. Slowly he spirals into a world of lies and manipulation, drugs and sex—all of which he faithfully records in daily entries in his journal.

Eventually, Miles fears about his wife’s possible adultery, coupled with his own sense of crippling loneliness, drive him into the arms of Lucy, a Nietzsche-reading wife and mother who’s looking to be saved from her own list of grievances. As Lucy and her son, Walter, gradually enter Miles’s life, the two adults find themselves moving inexorably into a passionate love affair, a potent broth of guilt, infidelity, and loss—one that will change both of their lives forever.

 

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1.      Miles King can come across as brash, and he often makes choices that are less than honorable. But he can also be brutally honest about himself and his own failings. Did you find yourself put off by some of his less admirable characteristics? Did you give him credit for attempting to be honest about his own shortcomings?

2.      Some of the characters in the novel pride themselves on their honest, unflinching self-awareness. The novel is, in fact, Miles’s scrupulously maintained diary, and he consistently notes how forthright and direct both Maggie and Lucy can be. Yet characters rarely tell the truth. What do you think this says about these characters and their perceptions of themselves? Also, what do you think of Isabel and Walter, the only two people in the book who actually seem to say what they mean?

3.      The catalyst that sets this story in motion and causes Miles’s “lost weekend” in Los Angeles is an answering machine message from Connor asking Maggie to meet him. Why do you think Miles never asks Maggie about this message and whether or not she’s having an affair?

4.      The book compares LA and New York City extensively, with New York coming out as a clear favorite. In the debate of real vs. fake, do you think LA seems as fake as Miles says it is? Discuss this in relation to the people that Miles meets there: Lear, Lucci, Bonnie, etc. Also consider Miles’s relationship with Lucy. Are there aspects of their relationship that seem false or self-serving?

5.      Why do you think McCloy chose to write an epistolary novel rather than opting for a more standard literary format? Did you find that the journal entries, with their shorthanded, off-the-cuff familiarity, drew you into the story and helped you to understand what drives Miles to make the choices he makes?

6.      Miles writes and thinks a lot about fame and its meaning; “. . . I’ve become acquainted with the peculiar greed for attention that any kind of public praise seems to incite…ultimately it can only be weakness” (p. 31). Do you think Miles is a weak person? Does striving for personal recognition in the public arena, on a large or small scale, make a person weak?

7.      Lucy constantly tells Miles how awful she feels about cheating on her husband, and yet she continues to do so. In fact, most of her feelings of guilt seem to spring up when she finds herself in very intimate situations with Miles. Discuss these conflicting emotions. Is it possible for a person to act in direct contrast to their emotions? To do one thing and say another, all the while believing that both are correct?

8.      Almost the entirety of the novel takes place as Miles attempts to adapt his critically acclaimed novel for the big screen, and yet we’re never treated to any samples of his writing—only his journal entries. What do you imagine Miles’s book to be? Do you think there is any significance in the fact that Miles gives his main character the name of Savage?

9.       The characters of Walter and Connor occupy an interesting place in the story. In some ways Miles loves both of them, and yet his love doesn’t seem entirely appropriate. After all, Walter is another man’s son and Connor has possibly slept with Miles’s wife. Why do you think Miles feels an attachment to both of these young men? Is it possible that they remind him of himself in some way?

10.   The topic of love is much discussed throughout the course of the novel, ranging from cynical, “love is a conspiracy” (p. 286) to romantic and maybe even a little bit naïve, “love should pull you further toward selflessness” (p.319). What do you think Miles’s final stance is on love? Considering Miles and his relationships with Maggie and Lucy, do you think it’s possible that different people need to be loved in different ways?

11.   Miles and Lucy have multiple discussions about language, etymology, and how language is used as a means of both describing one’s innermost thoughts and also of concealing them. Taking into account Miles’s chosen profession, do you think he is writing in an attempt to understand himself more fully, or are his journal entries a way of hiding his own thoughts from himself?

12.   Miles often compares Lucy and Maggie. Discuss their similarities and differences. Does it make sense that Miles would fall in love with both of these women?

13.   At one point Lucy tells Miles, “You imagine everything about me” (p. 51). Do you think this is true? Does Miles will people into playing certain roles, whether they want to or not? Does Miles turn real life into fiction?

14.   At the end of the novel Miles and Maggie seem to be headed for reconciliation. Do you think this is possible, or have they become too firmly ensconced in their new, separate lives? Do you think that Maggie’s supposed affair with Connor, as well as Miles’s own infidelities, will still plague their relationship, or do they matter anymore?

 

Enhance Your Book Club

1.      There are many books, movies, and TV shows that take an inside look at the moviemaking business and all of its highs and lows. Seek out some of these for a different perspective on the industry and life in Hollywood. How do they compare with Hollywood Savage? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Play It as It Lays
Singin’ in the Rain
The Player
Short Cuts
Postcards from the Edge
Soapdish
Annie Hall
Entourage
Mulholland Dr.
Ed Wood
Swimming with Sharks
Sunset Boulevard
Hollywoodland
L.A. Confidential

2.      Many writers have encountered difficulties when working in Hollywood, including William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as more contemporary authors like John Irving. Research some popular movie adaptations of books you’ve read and see how faithful the film stayed to its source material. Then ask yourself that age-old question: Which is better, the book or the movie?

3.      If you were a Hollywood director, who would you cast in the roles of Miles, Maggie, and Lucy? Why?

4.      The debate between New York City and Los Angeles—which is better?—has been raging pretty much since the Dodgers hightailed it out of Brooklyn and headed for the balmy LA climate. Now that you’ve heard Miles’s opinions on the topic, it’s your turn to weigh in. If you had to choose between NYC and LA, which would you pick and why?
 


A Conversation with Kristin McCloy

Q. At one point in the novel, Lucy wonders if it’s okay to ask Miles how much of his book is autobiographical and he responds, “You may not.” Do you also bristle when people ask how much of your work is autobiographical? In the case of a book like Hollywood Savage, do you have to make a conscious effort to separate your personal life from your work?

A. Well, I think the book speaks for itself. I’m not a man; neither am I—nor was I—separated from my spouse while suspecting infidelity and adapting a bestseller (that hasn’t—yet—been my privilege) for the screen, nor have I ever worked with a European director. Basically, I always try to find some way that will automatically turn what I’m writing (particularly in the first person, which does make it hard not to identify) into fiction, not journalism.

 

Q. The book criticizes Los Angeles and Los Angelnos. What is it about the city that rubs Miles the wrong way? Do you share Miles’s opinion on the city and its inhabitants?

A. Absolutely, I do. I found LA to be a one-trick pony (“the Industry”—nothing but TV and movies) and the people who lived there all enslaved to the notion of fame, ranking everyone according to their position in the fame line. Everybody was thinner, younger, and cooler than thou; worst of all, the only possible reaction to this was to act just like them. “Hey, you turn your nose up at me when I walk into a dining or drinking establishment, and then immediately your back? Well, fine, I’m not in any way interested in you, either.” Thus, nobody interacted. It was all emotional detachment and disdain. After a while, it was very difficult not to take it as a blow to your self-esteem; you simply were not worthy.

 

Q. Early in the novel Miles mentions the “writer’s fury to get it down” (p. 10). What does “it” mean to you? Do you think you captured “it” with this novel and this particular set of characters?

A. “It,” I guess, is what you feel particularly passionate about—in this case, I would have to say I was trying to get at the root of infidelity, from every angle possible: from the plot of Miles’s own book (the young man in it, whose name is Savage, becomes a double agent when forced by the CIA—who imply his own now-dead father told them where he could be found—to work for them during the Vietnam War, ultimately defies this dictum by becoming a double agent, something Lucci refers to as “monstrous”). And the adultery is compounded; not only does Miles cheat on his wife, he cheats on his mistress too, as if the latter will cancel out the former. My own question, I think, was ultimately this: Should one be true to one’s vows, said long ago, or to one’s self right now? (Or, put another way, was Shakespeare right when he wrote, “To thine own self be true”?).

 

Q. Miles can occasionally be a difficult character to root for. Could you discuss some of the difficulties that arise from writing a character who isn’t always likable? Were there times when you yourself didn’t like Miles much?

A. I must confess, I never found Miles unlikable. I think he’s just a human being, who has every human being’s weaknesses and ambiguities, who is reacting to his own feelings—of course it’s not rational, necessarily, but isn’t that the definition of emotion? I also think that this tendency to sanctify and idolize the main character is very much a Hollywood thing; it is just verboten ever to let us see the lead in any other context than likeable, and frankly, I think that’s nonsense—who is likable all the time? Do you yourself always act beautifully to other people, never gossip maliciously, never goad or gloat, never be pompous or hateful or envious? What person doesn’t have a dark side? Nobody I’ve met, myself included. 

 

Q. The book has a very distinct male voice at its center. Did you find it at all difficult as a writer to write a character of the opposite sex?

A. None. When people have asked me the same question previously, I liked to quip, “No, because I realized I may not have a man’s main equipment, but I do have balls.” I know that makes it sound trivial, but in effect, it’s as close to the truth as any other answer.

 

Q. Miles really runs through a wide gamut of emotions in this book, and most of them are less than pleasant. Did you ever find yourself becoming emotionally involved or affected by what he was going through—what you were putting him through?

A. I don’t think the rough patches of life—for example, doubting your wife, then acting the way you think she is (a form of revenge)—are “ever less than pleasant.” Who, after all, has never been pushed into a corner, made to feel low, filled with doubt, and found themselves reacting according to the saying, “The best defense is a good offense”? (Especially true, I think, for men.) No, I wouldn’t say “less than pleasant”; I think the more accurate term is more like devastation, the shaking of one’s identity’s cornerstone, a form of desperation. Then again, that’s where the real drama lies; who after all wants to read about someone whose life is all sunshine and roses? Wouldn’t that character be the truly hateful one?

 

Q. Why did you choose not to divulge whether or not Maggie and Connor actually had an affair?

A. I was writing from Miles’s point of view, and since he refused to confront his wife directly, even cutting her off when it seemed she was about to confess, he himself never knows for sure. The reason for his inability to confront the question is twofold: first, if she says she is, he, as a proud male, would have no choice but to say “then it’s divorce.” And second, he is not ready to cut her off, to let her go. He has loved her too long. And let’s not forget at that point that he is deep into his own affair; how can he castigate or confront or convict his wife when he is behaving exactly as he believes she is? It would make him truly hateful: a real hypocrite. So he refuses to bring everything out into the open—the only result of such behavior is surely nothing but destruction.

 

Q. At one point Lucy says that she hopes all of her philosophy classes will teach her to “learn how to die.” Can you elaborate on this? What does this mean in the context of Lucy’s character?

A. Maybe here I do veer into autobiography; I was a philosophy and psychology double major at Duke, and I came to that same conclusion (re: philosophy) on my own; and I think, insofar as Lucy is concerned, she is trying, in as clear-eyed a way as possible, to address and confront her own—everybody’s own—inexorable fate: mortality. She refuses to deny its absolute reality, or to pretend it does not exist. She is trying as hard as she can to prepare herself for it, and she is exploring every philosopher’s point of view throughout the ages, trying all the while to distill her own.

 

Q. Your writing has such a specific edge to it. Are there any writers that you’re particularly fond of or whom you had in mind while writing this book?

A. Actually, while I have often had certain novelists right next to my laptop while I worked (and no, I will not say whom), this time the inspiration for the voice actually came from my own—the one I found while flipping through twelve or more years’ worth of journals. As they went along, I found my own writing becoming more and more telegraphic, the sentences shorter, skipping the dreary details, getting right to the point (which, in itself, I think came from writing with a pen rather than a computer); I got impatient with how slowly I could get my own thoughts down, and simply trimmed what I wanted to say to the absolutely essential. Details were skimmed, and non sequiturs abounded. At times, especially in the later journals, I found the writing almost startling; I did not remember having written them (always, I think, a good sign), and I found I really liked the style. So, no, this time I had no one to rely on but my own self (talk about scary!).

 

Q. The characters in this novel have a real dexterity with words. Language is their emotional currency and, in some cases, their livelihood. And yet, when it comes to the most basic questions, they all seem to be at a loss. I’m reminded of Maggie and Miles’s confrontation in the car after their disastrous dinner in LA. Maggie is really trying to communicate something to Miles but can’t find the words. Are you trying to say something here about those people who devote themselves to the use and manipulation of language?

A. Just because you can be the soul of erudition on the page does not mean that, having come to your own crossroads in life, you are not rendered speechless yourself. Being flooded with a lot of different emotions all at once tends (at least it does in my own experience) to render us unable to speak.

 

Q. This is your third book. Are you working on anything new?

A. First of all, this is a question one should never, ever, ask a writer (actually, it’s okay to ask about theme; it’s the “Are you writing?” question that really turns us murderous). Second, yes, I am. I want to write a book of interconnected short stories using the same characters in Hollywood Savage (Miles, Maggie, Lucy, Izzy) in other times of their lives, both past and future, but I am trying to write it so that you don’t need to have read this book to enjoy the next. Pray for me.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (July 27, 2010)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439177167

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"Instantly contagious...A deliciously told story filled with wonderfully rich, accurate, and energetic prose...Electric from the first page on...tinglingly erotic..."
—Madison Smartt Bell in The Chicago Tribune

"Lovely and passionate prose...an urban love song."
The New York Times Book Review

"A palpitating story of a girl's movement into darkness and light."
—Pico Iyer

"Vivid...a detailed and ambitious plot with sharp dialogue."
Los Angeles Times

"A high speed tale of loss, lust and love."
Elle

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