Blown Away by Ronald Sukenick (Sun & Moon: $15.95, hardback; $10.95, paperback)
"I have nothing against the fake as long as it's the real thing. What people are willing to pay for. That's the kind of prophet we're interested in, Rod. Profit and loss. A fortune teller is someone who counts his fortune."
When you find a quote like that, you can be pretty sure you're back in the land of the Hollywood novel. And when you go on to a passage like this: "She's becoming more and more insubstantial personally the more she gets into her public identity but you know, Clara, everybody is beginning to seem less real to me, the very idea of personality is becoming totally unconvincing beyond a minimal definition as an intersection of genes and circumstance. In fact everything's becoming unreal, I'm even beginning to seem unreal to myself," you know you're at the literary Hollywood-and-Vine where our own regional literature and the avant-garde intersect.
Just so you know what you're getting into! This is a book where Boris Ccrab keeps referring to himself as "I, the omniscient narrator"; where over and over again the reader is reminded that the book he is reading is "the book you are reading"; where the character Victor Plotz is indeed obsessed with plots; where the money-man for the movie they're making is named O. U. Miracle, son of Miles Miracle, who built the Miracle Mile.
This is also a story where characters suffer from "future schlock," where it is gleefully pointed out that "Mia Farrow" means "my little pig," where Rory Calhoun and Roger Corman are seen to have the same initials, where the town of Elsinore, because it is so sleepy, is perceived as El Snore, where poor Mr. Plotz finally gets his own plot, six feet under. (Also, there's the obligatory Chinese man whose name has a phallic significance--a word-joke that must have been funny the first thousand times you read or heard it, but I can't remember that far back.)
The schematic framework here rests on the central assumption--if I read correctly--that in order to succeed in Hollywood, you'd have to be a mind reader, but even if you were, you'd probably end up reading the wrong minds. Adjacent to this, "Blown Away" speculates on reincarnation, astral projection and the art of being in two places at once. Also, as a Hollywood novel, it rings changes on earthquakes, the Great Fire of October, 1978, and a lot of really stupid discussions about the film production after which "the book you are reading" is named, "Blown Away." (Let the clue to the title remain a merciful secret.)
Again, forewarned is forearmed. It ought to be possible to discuss this narrative (not really a narrative because it disdains the paltry limitations of a beginning, a middle and an end) without bringing either Philistine objections or cheerleading for the aforementioned avant-garde to bear.
But you do have to be a Philistine to discuss the question of story, or Plotz, so here goes: Rod Drackenstein, a porno director, meets up with a beautiful dimwit named Cathy June Grunion whom he renames Clover Bottom and exploits shamefully both on the screen and off. (Among other things, he sends her off to someone's yacht to raise a little moola for his flicks.) Clover is sexy and sad and malleable and Drackenstein falls "in love" with her, whatever love is. Boris Ccrab, the famed but down-on-his-luck psychic, also falls in love with Clover, and rather than simply read her--or Drackenstein's--mind, begins to fill Drackenstein's mind with lofty thoughts. This tires Ccrab so much that he loses a letter from his name and becomes merely Crab. (He is also unable to continue his affair or even his friendship with Madame Lazonga.)
Many mysterious messages appear from other worlds here, including the ones on auto license plates: YYY ME is one of them, and from time to time this thought may occur to the reader as well, because some of this non-narrative seems both labored and familiar. The film that Plotz and Drackenstein and Crab and Bottom are working on, for instance, is a combination of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and a snuff flick: "Then Miracle gets the idea it should be a snuff film. . . . He gets to Drackenstein who thinks it's a great idea as long as it's legal. . . . Miracle calls Drackenstein and says he knows damn well that violence is never X, only sex is X. Drackenstein says they can have a snuff scene as long as it's P G. Plotz says you can't have a snuff scene without sex, it'll ruin the plot. Drackenstein says they can have a snuff scene with sex if it has redeeming social value. That holds everything up for a week. Finally Plotz comes up with Clover abducted by a cult of ghouls and sex maniacs who sincerely believe that blood sacrifice can end a drought. Crab says it's formula stuff. . . . "
Not That Kind of Moron
In a sense, this above quote says it all. It's funny--if you think it's funny. And it more or less keeps flying its avant-garde pennant. But it takes as its premise a very traditional thought--that the movie business is filled with morons. This may be true, but they're not that kind of moron!
Really, "Blown Away" is a clever restatement of all the prejudices of frightened Southern California English majors who don't want to end up writing episodes of "Gimme a Break." All the protective talismans of the intelligentsia are here: references to Anais Nin and Henry Miller; literary allusion upon literary allusion. But the weakness here--and if this sounds Philistine, well, that becomes the destiny of those who criticize the avant-garde--is that the phenomenon being satirized is not seen terribly clearly in the first place. Beyond that, the dreadful tale of this year's sex goddess is not an exactly new idea. Victor Plotz himself might sigh.
On the other hand, there are funny passages, funny scenes, and the reader may find himself longing to spend time in a different dimension, in the South Seas bar where the Chinese gent with the unprintable name hangs out, drinking astral beer. I can think of worse fates.