'L.A.: Fadeaway' Skewers Hollywood's Talent Agencies: Book Review
The fun but flawed first novel from a former insider keeps you guessing which characters are based on real intel.
With L.A. Fadeaway, A novel about aspiring Hollywood agents, Jordan Okun, a former ICM agent trainee and development executive, hopes to have written the What Makes Sammy Run? or Less Than Zero of the 21st century. While it falls short of that lofty goal -- the story lacks the moral consequences of those classics -- it wittily skewers the Hollywood zeitgeist, capturing the restlessness of the next generation of power players.
The book follows an unnamed twentysomething narrator, the son of a studio executive, during the course of two years as he moves from mailroom trainee to junior agent at a major talent agency. Along the way, he gets abused by his bosses, parties endlessly with his fellow trainees, parlays a stolen script idea into a hot property, has an affair with a senior agent's wife and ultimately helps land a young movie star -- a Shia LaBeouf/Robert Pattinson type -- for the agency, securing a promotion.
The book works best as a series of vignettes, sharply imagined snapshots full of knowing references to hot restaurants, cool labels and, most amusingly, the hierarchy of Christmas gifts. These set pieces—the talent agency mailroom, the Beverly Hills family dinner, rolling phone calls at the agency, sideline seats at the Lakers, partying at a hot club— successfully give readers the feel they are really getting an inside look at a hidden world
Agents are introduced with bullet points (Example: Earns $550,000, only eats at Italian restaurants and only at Ago, Madeo, Cecconi’s, etc., brags he slept with cast members of Gossip Girl, Friends, Dawson’s Creek, etc.) full of such acute detail that insiders will scramble to decide which are based on real people and which are purely fictional.
L.A. Fadeaway's narrator lacks the outsider quality (externally and existentially) that made What Makes Sammy Run?'s Jewish screenwriter Sammy Glick so compelling.
The genius of Schulberg’s novel is the way the title question hooks the reader and sustains the whole book. Here Schulberg benefited from writing in the ‘40s, where he could use Sammy’s Jewishness to create one of the great outsider novels of contemporary American fiction. He was making the point that even successful studio executives felt marked as outsiders by their Jewishness in mid-century America. Sammy could be succesful but he would never feel like he really fit in.
The book is more successful in evoking the tone and mood of Less Than Zero. Like Bret Easton Ellis, Okun excellently captures a certain generational ennui and emotional diffidence as the narrator tries anything -- pills, weed, sex, masturbation -- in an effort to dull himself to the real world and avoid an honest emotional connection with another person.
Ultimately, the problems of L.A. Fadeaway boil down to the fact that Okun is more a keen social observer than a novelist with the ability to convey people's inner lives or imbue the story with a larger sense of meaning.
Yet there is something undeniably fascinating here. Like an episode of Real Housewives or Keeping Up With the Kardashians, it's hard to turn away from the voyeuristic thrill of peeking into the lives of these privileged, amoral, aimless youths.
They are detestable characters, but deliciously so.
L.A. Fadeaway by Jordon Okun (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 274 pages, $15)
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