Boy Wonder

James Robert Baker, Author Dutton Books $18.95 (470p) ISBN 978-0-453-00597-5
In his second novel, the author of Fuel-Injected Dreams has produced a frenzied, satirical account of life in the Hollywood fast lane, a kind of Valley of the Dolls of the coke generation. The eponymous protagonist is a B-movie mogul, appropriately named Shark Trager, who moves through the Hollywood firmament like a supernova of schlock, eventually burning himself out and dying tragically at the age of 38, an industry legend. The story of this gaudy enfante terrible is told oral-history style through the voices of friends, associates, family and enemies. Through their eyes, we witness the rise and fall of a sadistic bully and maestro of cinematic shock: his calamitous birth, in a Southern California drive-in movie theater; his disastrous early years, distinguished by an unhappy home life and a world-class case of unrequited adolescent lust; his knockabout days as a UCLA film-school dropout and apprentice filmmaker; and his reign of terror as an impresario of the exploitation film and eventual mainstream mogul. His films are a thesaurus of bad taste, but they reflect the lifestyle of the man who is their creative midwife: a world of casual sex and violence, drugs and blackmail, backbiting, cutthroat intrigue and shady finances. The events in the films also eerily mirror events in Shark's life, as if this coke-addled auteur was attempting to rewrite his life in celluloid. Often amusing in its hectic and careening broad-stroke sendup, the novel eventually defuses the sting of its satire by overkill of shocking incidents and lightweight psychology. A cartoon of life in the Hollywood fast lane, Boy Wonder is something of a B-novel, an intermittently amusing ``exploitation'' of the lifestyles of the rich and infamous. (August)
Reviewed on: 08/05/1988
Release date: 08/01/1988
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-451-16506-0
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