Dwanollah's Endorsements, Vol. 1: TRASHY READING
June 2004

Summer gives me the perfect excuse to kick off my newest feature. Since I'm obviously all list-happy anyway, I figured compiling some lists of Assorted Endorsements and Recommendations might be fun. All from personal experience! All backed with my personal guarantee! And if you don't like it, you can keep the paring knife as your gift from us!

Ah, summer usually means trashy reading of some kind….

Well, for people with normal work/school schedules, that is. I've been doing a summer MA program for the last two years, so for me "summer reading" usually means something quite different. My trashiest of trashy reading is done either when I've just finished a killer semester, paper, chapter or project, or when I'm in the bathtub. Some of it is good-bad. Some is so bad it's good. Some is just plain bad. But I make no excuses! I'll read my share of Fitzgerald, Stein, Wharton, James, O'Conner, and Faulkner, sure, but sometimes, I just need something vastly different, sometimes I need the Jackies, Judys and Ginnys; fine dining is wonderful, but, alas, humans that we are, sometimes doncha just crave a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli? (And, for the sake of simplification, this here list is just adult fiction and non-fiction… I'll do the chilluns' books list later.)

So, you dirty little vixen! Are you in the mood for trashy reading? Voila! Dwanollah's Suggestions for The Best Authors to Ravage Your Valuable Brain Cells! Pick up something by:

Judith Krantz
Judy's prolly my Patron Saint of Trashy Reading. I mean, rich people? Check. Hollywood? Check. New York? Check. Fashion, movies, exclusive restaurants and shops, dress designers, models, trips on the Concorde? Check 'em all. Displaced royalty/society members, bohemian Paris, art deco New York, scandal, adultery, secret siblings, slutty sisters? Yup, check. Women who break new ground in: aviation, photography, film, fashion, retail, art, business? Uh huh. Fags, queens, dykes, whores, cheats, users, sado-masochists, sluts, swingers, mistresses, grudge fucks, one-nighters- Oh yeah. Judy's got 'em all.

What makes Krantz really entertaining, in my opinion, is her writing style. A former magazine writer, she's awfully fond of lavish details and cataloguing. She can and does bang on for paragraphs and pages describing a restaurant, neighborhood, house, shop, dress, piece of antique furniture, bouquet of flowers, party décor, house décor, haircut, outfit, dog, bathtub- I think that's great good fun!

This lavish detail, of course, is what makes Judy's sex scenes so much fun, too. I still remember seeing her interviewed on, like, Donahue or something, and being asked if she "lived" all those sex scenes through her characters, even the gay ones. And she just totally went all, "Oh, ABSOLUTELY" and laughed with delight. And she's my Gramma's age! Dang. I get the feeling that Judy Tarcher Krantz would be way fun to hang out with. The dirty ol' woman!

My favorites by Judy are Princess Daisy, Mistral's Daughter, and the Scruples books. Lots of details, lots of swoosh, lots of entertainment! But her latest few novels have felt a little too phoned-in… she's been reusing a bunch of names, for instance, and I can't keep track of how many Maddys and Maggies and Maxis she's had, not to mention all the girls-with-"ee"-ending-boys-names like Billy and Freddy and Frankie, and then there're the Gigis and Daisys and Kikis…. Jeepers.

Anyway. I'm on the fence about her recent autobiography, amusingly titled Sex and Shopping: Confessions Of A Nice Jewish Girl. On the one hand, she was a bold woman, unapologetically having premarital sex (and an abortion) in the 1950s. But on the other hand, it's a pain in the ass to read about how privileged she was all her life, and how… well… easily her writing career came about because of it. It makes her star-fucking/rich bitch elements of her novels more believable, of course, but for those of us who couldn't easily walk into jobs at a major magazine because of our daddies and get things published because of our husbands, it's hard not to get all jealous and cranky. Like, I'm SURE I could do that too, Judy, if I was rich and cute like YOU! Nyah! But then, she's a good storyteller, so it's fun to read and spot moments that ended up in her books… which I'm sure was her intention all along.

Jacqueline Briskin
Well, admittedly, JB's a bit of an anomaly here. She's actually a pretty damned good writer, with an elegant grasp of plot and character development, as well as history and literature. Some of her books are pretty deep and epic, too, all Greek tragedy-like. Of course, she was marketed as Hollywood Trash, and, because many of her books revolve around Hollywood/the movies (She's somehow related to Columbia's Sam Briskin...?) and the wealthy, she gets lumped in with the other Js, like Judith and the Jackies (Collins and Sussman), even though it's a tad unfair. And while many of her paperbacks were bestsellers, she was never the household name that the aforementioned Js were; now, there's barely a mention of her at all, and she hasn't had anything new out since the late '80s.

Briskin's books feature ensemble casts. She is big on dark, tortured, noble, sensuous leading men, as well as altruistic, loving and wholly kind heroines, and she often returns to a three-women's-lives motif (Everything and More, Too Much Too Soon, Rich Friends), but somehow she manages to do more with them. On the other hand, she also deals powerfully and explicitly with world history, especially World War II from all angles, the growth of Hollywood, New York culture, the broad spectrum of 20th Century American history…. She really knows her stuff (or is able to convince her readers she does), and the details are tight, spare, and effective; she can do in two sentences what Krantz does in three paragraphs.

Her characters are complicated and unconventional; it's hard to pigeonhole any of them… and they often do what you don't expect them to. Briskin's got a great grasp of human psychology, and, with the exception of maybe Dreams Are Not Enough, her characters have layers to be revealed. Since she usually introduces them when they're teens/young adults, it's fun to watch them grow.

My favorite book by her is Paloverde, a family epic covering the 1880s to the mid 1920s, and paralleling Los Angeles's development from a dusty Mexican town to a growing metropolis with a thriving movie industry. Or maybe California Generation, set in the 60s, with a bunch of classmates from high school through adulthood, with some sly twists at the end. Some of her books are good but don't stay with you, like Everything and More and Too Much Too Soon, but others are really haunting and end how you'd least expect them to, like Rich Friends, Onyx, The Other Side of Love, and The Crimson Palace.

There's a lot of Glitz and Glamour mixed in, but JB has a fun and addictive way of combining reality with fiction, so, if you aren't careful, sometimes you aren't sure where one ends and the other begins. There are very casual mentions of other books' characters in every one of Briskin's novels, not at all in the stagy way Krantz did it in Dazzle, mind, but gentle, a bit sly, yet also respectful. Someone will move into a house "owned by the late Tessa Van Vliet, wife of silent-film actor Kingdon Vance," or "Lynn Hutchinson, in from Grosse Pointe" will be mentioned in one book, when she was a main character's infant daughter in a previous one. In most respects, Briskin doesn't spoon-feed you, and if you're a fast reader like me, chances are you'll miss some evocative detail the first (or second) time around, either in terms of character development or plot or somesuch.

The only thing I have a problem with in her novels is, while her heroines are usually strong, capable, and in some instances, incredibly heroic, they ultimately want one thing: to be married with children… and this is usually related to hanging on to an idealized love for her first romantic relationship. Many have careers foisted on them unwittingly, but are always unsatisfied until they start birthin' babies; they've even spent the last several decades mooning around after their first love, despite other marriage(s). On the other hand, women in Briskin's books who actively pursue careers or non-traditional routes are always secondary ones, and usually subjected to feelings of inferiority as a result. It's an incongruous note, when her books are usually so dynamic otherwise.

But still, read everything she wrote. Read it twice.

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