A Path to Disaster?
is an interesting Bogosian diversion
by John Sewell
Always managing to remain on the periphery just left of mainstream pop culture, actor/monologist/playwright/author Eric Bogosian has forged a career as a sideline commentator on urban life. Through his work as a stage performer ( Drinking In America and Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll ), actor/screenwriter ( Talk Radio ), and novelist ( Mall ), Bogosian’s common thread has always been the presentation of skewed characters that somehow symbolize our nation’s neuroses and obsessions.
Sure, Mr. B.’s chameleon-like metamorphosis has included some rather questionable bill-paying diversions akin to those of action-movie villain, but for the most part, the New York-bred thespian has created a solidly thought-provoking and entertaining body of work. Like fellow jack of all trades, Henry Rollins (who has made umpteen laughable movie appearances of his own), Bogosian is an all-purpose, high-intensity agitator—maybe not a genius, but certainly a well-above-par comic and social satirist.
Wasted Beauty (Simon & Schuster) is yet another installment in Bogosian’s rapidly expanding canon. But, while the author displays excellent powers of observation coupled with a deft wit, the novel’s constant reiteration of cultural clichés negates its power, thereby relegating the book to the entertainment pile as opposed to, say, the deep and meaningful artistic expression pile. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting ride.
The fast-moving novel begins as Reba, a 21 year-old bumpkin who commutes into the deep, dark recesses of New York City to sell apples that she and her brother have cultivated on their upstate farm, becomes an instant supermodel as a result of a chance meeting with a fashion photographer. In no time flat, Reba finds herself residing in her own Manhattan apartment, is rechristened Rena, appears on several high-gloss fashion magazine covers, and is summarily injected into a swirling vortex of fame, money, promiscuous sex, drugs and self-destruction.
Somehow along the way. Rena crosses paths with Rick, a not-so-happily married, 40-plus physician deep in the throes of midlife crisis. And (who’da thunk it?) after a few furtive meetings with Rena, the unlikely pair begin an affair.
A cliché personified (the typical nice, married guy presented with the prisoner’s dilemma of a nubile young nymph at his disposal), Rick grapples with the affair and his overall standing in life’s great mystery. “Knowing I’m a fool doesn’t make me less of a fool.… This is what it means to be grown-up, finally. Marriage didn’t do it. Kids didn’t do it. Ultimate peril is required to see how alone I am. Maybe there is no answer? Eventually time will provide one. Or accident, and how stupid will I be then, explaining it all, not only to my wife, but to my children?”
Needless to say, Rick and Rena’s affair is on a nonstop trajectory toward certain doom. Of course, it’s the pitfalls along the primrose path to disaster that provide Bogosian with several jumping-off points from which he can engage his moral compass and pontificate on the foibles of humanity, the fleeting nature of fame, crass consumerism, disposable pop culture, temptation, sin and redemption, middle-age regret.… The list goes on.
The plot of Wasted Beauty is essentially a framework for Bogosian’s sideline commentary. And therein lies the charm of the novel. While it can certainly be argued that the author is merely echoing the time-honored mantras of every social critic from Lenny Bruce to Tom Wolfe to Bret Easton Ellis, this type of sermonizing can indeed be funny. It’s doubtful that readers will emerge from the novel with any expanded knowledge of the, pardon me, dank and dirty slums of contemporary culture, but they will be entertained.
The Manhattan of Wasted Beauty is an obstacle course/amusement park of seedy diversions. And who wouldn’t want to engage in such transgressions, at least vicariously? Rife with the requisite thrills of bed-hopping and pill-popping, the novel follows the time-honored picaresque tradition of The Basketball Diaries or guiltier pleasures such as Jacqueline Susann’s Valley Of The Dolls .
Chances are, Bogosian wouldn’t be too enthused to see his artistic efforts described as summertime, poolside reading. Nevertheless, this book falls into the page-turner category—a slightly more sophisticated page-turner, that is. There are certainly some deep truths submerged within the grotesqueries of the novel, but those truths are of the sort that set lightbulbs aglow atop the heads of black-clad teenagers on an initial foray into the world of bohemia. The literary equivalent of FX network shows Nip/Tuck or Rescue Me , Wasted Beauty serves up heaping dollops of titillation that will delight the teenagers lurking within the minds of sensation-seeking adults everywhere. Just be sure to brush your teeth once the sugar rush subsides.