AS STORYTELLING'S LIFEBLOOD IS COMPASSION, satire feeds off rage. Most Hollywood novels get their sustenance from both, though tend to binge on the latter. There's a great deal to mock, obviously. It may in fact be so obvious, feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph. But in case you're new to the genre, the Hollywood novel often fashions itself as a reality check against the illusory world of show business, whose woeful denizens scurry after easy fame and fortune. It calls out these poor souls on their materialism and shallowness, their desperate need to appear successful, and of course their faltering grip on virtue. The worship of youth — as well as beauty of a plastic order — ranks high among the town's false idols in need of a good smashing; though really, what's mockable about Hollywood is an exaggerated version of what's mockable about America, just with nicer weather. That actual human suffering flourishes against such a balmy, not to mention glitzy, backdrop provides a facile irony few authors who have ever set foot here can resist.
Of all the tempting targets presented by Hollywood, most deserving of satiric rage remains the exploitative nature of the place. How quickly and in what manner will each new protagonist, often just arrived from the East or Midwest, become abused and degraded before abusing and degrading others? To read about all this can be edifying, but the pleasures — rueful chuckles and knowing winces, typically — are dark ones, not to mention kind of elitist, since satire entails a distant, critical perspective. From the anthropological obsessions of Budd Schulberg'sWhat Makes Sammy Run? (1941) to the balls-out insanity of Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1968), the Hollywood novel invites our awareness of its author, sniping from the palm trees.
Mona Simpson's My Hollywood — "at turns satirical and heartbreaking," according to its jacket copy — provides a welcome expansion of the genre, and to some extent even a departure, which its title seeks to emphasize right from the get-go. "My" in this case refers to a narrator outside the Hollywood mainstream, actually two alternating narrators, neither of whom work in the entertainment industry. Nonetheless, they are both supported and victimized by it, situating My Hollywood very much as a novel about the town's heartless exploitation of those who would dare seek their happiness here.