It opens with a card game. Played between Jordan's mother and grandmother, the game is called The Mao, and, like the adult world in which he is prematurely thrust, the rules seem arbitrary and the stakes staggeringly high -- whoever wins the game wins custody of him.
So begins this 15-year-old child actor's odyssey through the temptations of Hollywood and the emotional minefield of his family's life. As the story unfolds, we learn that Jordan's father has molested him throughout his childhood and that his mother, a narcissistic woman immersed in her acting career, has little interest in him. The only stable force in his life is his grandmother, a remarkable woman with whom Jordan shares everything from dances to drugs to his innermost confidences; a woman who is slowly dying.
Heart-wrenching and highly cinematic, The Mao Game sheds light on both the fragile vulnerability and the remarkable resilience of the human spirit. An unmistakably modern coming-of-age story, it marks the triumphant debut of an important new voice in the next generation of American novelists.
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Joshua Miller comes from a film and literary dynasty that includes his father, Jason Miller, an actor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Joshua is an undergraduate at Yale University, and contributes to the Yale Literary Magazine and Playboy.From Kirkus Reviews:
Parent-child incest, strippers, heroin, cancer, and Hollywood, too. Actor and first-time novelist Miller doesn't miss a trick in this surprisingly well-written fictional memoir of a child actor adrift in the unreal world of movie-making. Himself a child actor and the son of a Playboy centerfold and Russ Meyer actress, Miller creates an alter ego, Jordan Highland, whose own mother is a successful actress--and also a former Playmate. More concerned with her son's diet than with his education, Jordan's divorced mother pushes him through his career even as it falters thanks to his excessive drug use. His real problem stems, though, from his football-coach father, a former NFL star whose parental visits since age five involve increasingly sick sex play, though Jordan is too afraid to tell anyone. At 15, Jordan's mother and grandmother play the card game of the title (characterized by its arbitrary set of rules) to determine who should have custody of the troubled teenager. His mother loses. And so, deep into drugs and keeping company with a 16-year-old stripper/dominatrix, Jordan goes to live with his grandmother, a famous Hollywood photographer (Miller's granddad was Bernard of Hollywood) who's dying of cancer. A French-Jewish refugee, the grandmother shares her grandson's pot and offers lots of candid sexual advice. Together, they travel into the Nevada desert, seek out illegal cancer drugs, and enjoy a farewell party on the Queen Mary. Hoping to bring mother and daughter together again, Jordan discovers the violent truth of his mother's conception. He also confronts his father, attempts suicide on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and witnesses his grandmother's final breath. Despite all the over- the-top behavior, mother and son manage to become reconciled by the close. Miller's unique Hollywood pedigree--his father is the actor and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jason Miller--must be what accounts for the authentic feel here. Even the craziest behavior seems believable in this artful re-creation of Hollywood's casual lunacy. (15 b&w photos, not seen) ($25,000 ad/promo) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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