All About Faye : NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON, By Faye D. Resnick (Dove Books: $14.95)

David Ehrenstein is a regular contributor to Book Review

"Nicole and I shared a dream. We wanted to stop being male-dependent, give up alcohol and drugs, and open up a Starbucks coffee house." So proclaims Faye Resnick toward the close of "Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted," the controversial bestseller co-written by this much-married recovering substance abuser, former director of the John Robert Powers Finishing and Modeling School, and self-described "best friend" of the most publicized murder victim of our time. And as anyone who has actually read "Private Diary" knows, Resnick is being perfectly honest about this "shared dream." It lies at the beating heart of "the tiny but exquisite village of Brentwood," whose female citizenry apparently devote all their energies to shopping, working out, nightclubbing, breast augmentation surgery, fellatio and coffee.

But on the evening of June 19, 1994, a rude awakening came to this demi-paradise when Nicole Brown, ex-wife of Hertz rent-a-car spokesman O.J. Simpson, was found stabbed to death on the walkway in front of her Brentwood condo, along with the similarly eviscerated body of Ronald Goldman.

"There's no good time or bad time to be hit with the shattering news that your best friend has just been murdered," Resnick relates. "But it's brutal to hear it three days into cocaine treatment."

Apparently Judge Lance Ito, who is presiding over the ongoing trial of the car-rental pitchman indicted in the double slaying with special circumstances, also had problems with timing. Fearing that the precipitate release of the book last fall would somehow taint the proceedings, he briefly suspended jury selection--thus creating the impression that this pocket-sized memoir contained key information about the case. With a Resnick court appearance now about as likely as a Woody-Mia reconciliation, the gong would appear to have sounded on Faye's 15 minutes of fame. But don't count her out yet, for in a case where the "legally inadmissible" has always been a major focal point, and labellings of "fact" and "speculation" mere formalities, "Private Diary" is an invaluable Baedeker.

Moreover, as is clear from even a casual glance at the book, the deaths of Brown and Goldman are of only passing interest to Resnick and her collaborator, National Enquirer columnist Mike Walker. Far from being a contribution to the true-crime genre, "Private Diary" might be said to take up where Truman Capote left off with "Answered Prayers"--his unfinished "nonfiction novel."

Ostensibly a panorama of 1960s cafe society, "Answered Prayers" mixed invented characters with actual people, serious events with scurrilous gossip, and defied the reader to tell the difference between "true" and "false." The problem was, in seeking to break new ground for the roman a clef , "Prayers" ended up with more clef than roman . There was nothing to hold this compendium of scandalous anecdotes and smart remarks together. "Private Diary," on the other hand, has what talk-show maestro Geraldo Rivera casually refers to as "the trial of the century" as a narrative anchor. And while it presents itself as a clef -free document, there's no question that the literary standards to which Resnick and Walker subscribe are novelistic. When the "Diary" says of the defendant "how quickly that smile, that happy public face, could transform itself into a terrifying, sweat-streaked mask of naked rage," or quotes his slain ex-spouse complaining that "after we got divorced it was hard for me to adjust to the fact that I wasn't having constant sex," it's clear that Jackie Collins rather than Samuel Pepys is the presiding literary spirit. Moreover, it goes boldly where even the likes of Jackie Collins might fear to tread.

As sociologist Jean Baudrillard has observed, we're in the midst of "Culture degree Xerox," that state of mass media self-consciousness in which "each category is generalized to the greatest possible extent, so that it eventually loses all specificity and is reabsorbed by all the other categories." "Private Diary" is a perfect example of a work designed to be reabsorbed. Rather than concern themselves with "truth," Resnick and Walker set their sights on spectacle--coolly aware that even their dumbest observation will be fodder for the tabloids, news reports, talk shows, and made-for-television movies that keep the media machine churning.

Shifting back and forth in time from Nicole Brown's funeral to events that took place months before the double murders, the book features colorful views of both the accused murderer ("blatantly urinating in my presence and cursing the mother of his children with a vengeance I'd never heard from anyone! I fled the ladies' room") and the more famous of the two victims ("Nicole stopped suddenly, bent down and picked up a chunk of driftwood. She held it out in front of her and said, 'This is the size of Marcus Allen.' ") But the true center of "Private Diary's" attention isn't the double murder, it's Faye Resnick.

"How can I describe the intensity of my relationship with Nicole, particularly toward the end?" Faye asks. Well, "All About Eve" certainly comes to mind. As she gushes on about how "we had become more than friends," those versed in the Joseph L. Mankiewicz classic will find it hard to chase away the image of Anne Baxter in the dressing room scene. Rather than providing a voice for a woman no longer able to speak for herself, Resnick is an understudy who has usurped the role of a permanently indisposed star. Every bit of what the book has to say about Nicole is filtered through Faye.

"I'm aware there are women who don't enjoy sex, but I'm not among them. And neither was Nicole," notes the "Diary" as it ticks off the countless coffee-sipping hours these merry ex-wives of Brentwood spent ogling the young men ("we called them the Starbucks boys") they planned to "do"--"the euphemism in our circle for a sexual encounter." Still, the book claims, while Brown often put her "superb body" to sexual use, she was "adamantly opposed to infidelity." Nothing if not paradoxical, Nicole, according to Resnick and Walker, felt that only vaginal penetration qualified as "cheating."

"As someone who works hard at being a good mother, I know one when I see one," Faye sniffs primly at one point. Yet in spite of her uncanny ability to recall detailed conversations with "Nic," Faye is much less forthcoming about her own drug and alcohol problems, which suddenly loom large in the book's last quarter, when Brown and her friends force Resnick to enter a rehab clinic. But can anyone really blame her for this oversight? With the estranged couple phoning her day and night ("O.J . . . every time I talk to you lately, all I ever hear about is me, me, me!"), Faye begins to take on the aspect of the heroine of Henry James' "What Maisie Knew"--a child caught in a custody dispute.

"I can't be here, Nicole," Faye wails, worried about entering the "Exodus" drug recovery program while "Nic's" ex is making violent threats. "I'm losing my head. I'm going out of my mind. I can't let myself stay in this terrible world you're trapped in."

"Remember, we'll have lots of coffee," says Nicole, bidding Faye what she thought would be a brief goodby at the rehab door. But the farewell (eerily reminiscent of Bogart's "We'll always have Paris" to Bergman in "Casablanca") proved to be permanent.

"I know that I told her I loved her," Resnick recalls tremulously. "I've thought a lot about this conversation and have actually attempted to undergo hypnosis to make sure there was no tiny detail I didn't remember." As the immortal Thelma Ritter said (to cite "All About Eve" one last time), "What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds yapping at her rear end."

Yes, indeed, "Private Diary" has "everything"--in a way that makes its rivals in the pop biography field--"Michael Jackson Unauthorized," Princess in Love," "Songs My Mother Taught Me," et al.--seem milquetoast by comparison. It may not get far in an actual courtroom (you can almost hear the whiny purr of defense counsel Gerald Uelman raising objections while you read), but when it comes to the all-important court of public opinion, the weak tea of objectivity just won't do when you can have . . . coffee.

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