About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Friday, July 30, 2010

#60 - Beverly Hills Adjacent

Beverly Hills Adjacent, by Jennifer Steinhauer and Jessica Hendra (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2009).

Jacket summary: "During TV pilot season, June Dietz's husband, Mitch Gold, becomes another man -- a distracted man who doesn't notice her delicious Farmer's Market homemade dinners, who mumbles responses around the tooth-whitening trays in his mouth, who is consumed with envy for his fellow television actors, who pants for a return phone call from his agent. Does June want to be married to an abject, paranoid, oblivious mess? Possibly not. June's job as a poetry professor at UCLA makes her in but not of Los Angeles, with its illogical pecking order and relentless tribal customs. Even their daughter Nora's allegedly innocent world isn't immune from oneupmanship: While Mitch is bested for acting jobs by the casually confident (and so very L.A.) Willie Dermott, June is tormented by Willie's insufferably uptight wife, Larissa, and the other stay-at-home exercisers in the preschool.

"Could Rich Friend be the answer? Smart, age-appropriate, bookish -- and a wildly successful television producer -- Rich focuses on June the way nobody has since she moved to Los Angeles, and there's nothing for June to do but wallow in what she's been missing. But what's the next step? How does a regular person decide between husband and lover, family and fantasy?

"Set in a Los Angeles you haven't read about before, Beverly Hills Adjacent is that rare thing: a laugh-out-loud novel with heart."

Opening line: "The trouble with starring in a network television show about a bipolar dentist who is looking for love on the internet is that no matter how deft the flossing puns, or how diverting the high jinks with your Puerto Rican hygenist, it all comes down to the time slot."

My take: High literature it ain't, but BHA has a lot more substance and is a lot more entertaining than it had any right to be.

Probably the most surprising thing about this book for me is that it's not the West Coast-style Danielle Steele, lifestyles-of-the-rich and famous cupcake I expected. And this is a good thing. While rich and famous secondary characters abound, principals Mitch and June are transplants to Tinseltown who really do seem to have lives, neuroses, and crises more or less like anyone else. OK, the authors had me at the scene where Mitch, a sweet-if-preoccupied, moderately successful character actor, tries to brag on his academic wife at a show biz party:
"'Hey, did June tell you that she won the William Parker Riley Prize? It's a huge honor in the academic community. And she's up for a big grant this year, too.' Mitch was immensely proud of June's professional accomplishments, which were many, though she rarely spoke about them. Two years ago, her students had nominated her for a teaching award at UCLA -- something she never mentioned, even though she had come in second.

"Larissa clucked. 'Oh, I could never have time to fill out papers for stuff like that. I have so much to do at home. You know, that's why I left the business when Chloe was born. It's just so hard to work and be the kind of mom I want to be. And now I'm busy looking at schools, which is a major execution, because, as you know, Chloe's very gifted.'

"June nodded, remembering that the last time she saw very-gifted Chloe she was chowing down on a dollop of past. 'Yes, that must be quite an execution.'

"June thought about trying to activate that feature which makes your own cell phone ring and reached inside her bag to grab it, and a soggy wooden stirrer fell out onto the table. Larissa looked repulsed and June quickly stowed the stick back in her purse."
In short, this is fluff, but it's satisfying fluff -- probably because it's in a slightly different setting than I'm used to. We tend to expect that stories set in Beverly Hills and/or about professional actors will be in the lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous vein, and, well ... like everyone else everywhere else, sometimes they're just people trying to make a living. Whether or not you think you'll like this book, you're probably right.

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