Still Holding: A Novel of Hollywood

by Bruce Wagner

(Simon & Schuster)From page to screen to tube, Bruce Wagner (Wild Palms, Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills) has labored for over a decade within the system to deliver a single, unified message: Hollywood blows. For those raised outside the pop-culture bubble, such a revelation might come as a compelling, irresistibly naughty shock. In the world of Anna Nicole, second banana tell-alls, and The E! Network, those who already hold this basic truth to be self-evident can't be blamed for wondering what all the fuss is about.

Still Holding, the final installment in Wagner's Cellular Trilogy (following the cult-iconic I'm Losing You and the somewhat less accomplished I'll Let You Go) continues the author's often amusing, occasionally tiresome pattern of raging against the machine. Written in a flurry of run-on paragraphs and surprise cameos, the overlapping narrative follows a hapless trio as they destructively pinball through the bright shadows of La-La Land: An easily duped professional Drew Barrymore lookalike; a morbidly obese, delusional Buddhist; and a blockbuster superhunk who gets rather too conveniently brain damaged while researching an I Am Sam-type role. Morals are abandoned, taboos swiftly violated, and the chic degradations come fast and furious. Yet for all the calculated outrages and thinly veiled celebrity reveals, a pallor of ho-hum lies over the whole enterprise. Sacred cows such as Six Feet Under, Spike Jonze, and Rob Reiner are lined up and slaughtered by the score, but Wagner's efforts are repeatedly hamstrung by the familiarity of his chosen subject. Shock? You bet. Surprise? Eh, not really.

Granted, there are times when the author's combination of jet-black sarcasm and white-heat writing style--anyone who can successfully rant for a solid page about Tom Green and his "chinless cancer mouth" clearly has talent to burn--successfully overcomes the rigid narrowness of his obsessions. Given such flashes of real inspiration, one can't help but wish that Wagner would sense when to pack it in and move his considerable gifts on to more fertile topics. Until then, the sense of squandering a thermonuke on paper targets persists. ANDREW WRIGHT