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SEX AND VIOLENCE IN HOLLYWOOD
By RAY GARTON (Subterranean Press; 2001)

This 506-page epic is widely viewed as a breakthrough effort by the talented Ray Garton, and with good reason. Itís an unfailingly twisty and energetic thriller containing all the things that make Gartonís work distinct--notably the page-turning storytelling and unsettling flair for the grotesque--along with an altogether fascinating and unpredictable narrative. Gartonís novels often read like twisted redoes of the plots of other books or movies, but I promise you wonít mistake SEX AND VIOLENCE IN HOLLYWOOD for anything else.

     Adam Julian is the spoiled-rotten twentyish son of a wealthy Hollywood screenwriter. As the novel opens Adam is enthusiastically banging his stepmother. That we actually sympathize with Adam despite his immense privilege--and the fact that heís frankly a bit of an asshole--is Gartonís greatest accomplishment here. Adam is a thoroughly unworldly individual whose bad decision making comes to have a very real, and very dark, impact on his life, and yet we willingly follow his twisted exploits wherever they may lead.

     In the midst of the affair with his stepmother Adam is also seduced by his crafty teen stepsister(!), who ropes him into a dangerous escapade involving armed robbery and a planned murder. But then Adam discovers heís being set up by both women. He decides to take of the problem by killing them both, which takes him into the orbit of some profoundly unsavory characters.

     Along the way Adam falls for a seemingly pure-hearted young woman named Alyssa, who appears to offer a wholesome alternative to Adamís otherwise increasingly sordid dealings. What Adam, in his fatal naivetť, fails to take into account is that Alyssa isnít the angel he takes her for. Just the opposite, in fact!

     Iíll refrain from giving away much more, but will reveal that Adamís actions lead to a high profile murder trial that comes to rival those of the Menendez Brothers and O.J. Simpson in media sensationalism. A new character enters the scene at this point, and comes to dominate the proceedings: Rona Horowitz, a high-powered defense attorney with a talent for manipulation rivaling those of most Hollywood moviemakers. Under her tutelage Adam becomes a full-blown media sensation, all the while carefully withholding the details of his role in the crimes heís charged with.

     Adamís trial, in a most unexpected development, takes up much of the novelís second half, radically shifting the overall thrust from what the opening half seems to promise. Unexpectedness is one of the novelís primary charms: itís literally impossible to predict where the narrative will lead, as nearly every chapter takes it in a different direction. It all leads to a conclusion that, even by Garton standards, is profoundly nasty.

     SEX AND VIOLENCE IN HOLLYWOOD works as both a uniquely twisty thriller and a corrosive look at modern-day Hollywood. To that end Garton includes appearances by quite a few actual Hollywood denizens, including Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, Cher, Wolfgang Puck and Jack Nicholson, who actually has a fairly substantial role in the proceedings.  

     

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