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In this antic insider's tale as seen by Nathan Pitch, a movie studio grunt who managed to preserve his scruples while becoming a head story editor, Hollywood is referred to as "Wormwood," after the volatile ingredient in absinthe, the favored intoxicant of 19th-century Parisian artistes that is newly popular in Hollywood clubs. The novel tracks Pitch's three-year servitudeAhis arrival in L.A., loss of innocence, addiction and departureAall before he's 30. At first, Pitch lurches from a job with a sadistic agent into marketing focus groups, then lands in script development, finding that everyone he meets is a confirmed liar. He's in the Hollywood whirl among the broken, the stupid and the lunatic, surrendering to the grinding pace of nonstop work that merges with grueling recreational nights, which are all business, too. His eye for story material, the bricks and mortar of the system, makes him known for delivering honest "coverage." He is jaded, disillusioned and hooked on absinthe when he reads ("covers") a hot new novel that he thinks is beautiful. It's too literary for film and he won't recommend it to the studio president, Jumper Sussman. But, surrendering to what is left of his honor, he decides to write glorious coverage on it, knowing as he does that it isn't "filmic." A raging auction for the book's film rights ensues, which Sussman wins, to the tune of $1.7 million for the impoverished author and his ecstatic agentAa gift from Pitch. Levien's fiction debut holds out little hope for Hollywood, though outrageous scenes abound as Pitch, beaten but audacious, tries to disrupt the system. The swelling note of despair becomes tiresome, saved only intermittently by the author's energy and acute reportage. (June) FYI: Levien cowrote the screenplay for Rounders.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The town where the laughing images are made transforms itself from Hollywood to Wormwood for the brilliant young narrator of this debut novel by screenwriter Levien, who coauthored (with Brian Koppelman) 1998's star-heavy film Rounders. At 20, Nathan Pitch (as in What's the pitch?) comes to Hollywood full of dreams about becoming a member of the creative side of filmmaking. He starts out, as have many top film folk, at the bottom, in the mail room of an agency, where he quickly learns that even on the lowest levels all life in Hollywood is on a this-for-that trade basis. Over a three-year period Nathan works his way up from secret script reader to full-fledged script reader to D-guy (script development) to story editor for a development agencyby age 23, at which point he's a burnt-out shell and fired. His demise comes about partly from a growing addiction to the new Hollywood craze for absinthe, a drink whose highs leave its victims skinny and gaunt. Just as corrosive as absinthe, however, is the meretriciousness of every deal Nathan comes in contact with. During his stint in the trenches the one film he helps bring before the cameras is a breathlessly worthless piece of schlock. As he learns, his company is interested only in sucking up as many sweet development deals as possible and rewriting scripts over and over: Actual filmmaking kills the whole development process. A smartly groomed, episodic novel that ironically, in spite of its luridly cinematic moments and business knifings, is itself too literary to become a strong movie without cheapening its classiness with some outlandish plot twist. What of it? Its still among the top savagings of Hollywood since Budd Schulberg's 1941 What Makes Sammy Run? -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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