cover image THE SECOND ASSISTANT: A Tale from the Bottom of the Hollywood Ladder

THE SECOND ASSISTANT: A Tale from the Bottom of the Hollywood Ladder

Clare Naylor, Mimi Hare, . . Viking, $21.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03307-2

Books about bright young women learning the ropes of glamorous careers under corrosively evil bosses are catnip to a generation of readers, so this West Coast version of The Devil Wears Prada fills a niche, with brio. Elizabeth Miller gives up an idealistic job as a Washington senator's aide to join the Agency, a super-powerful Hollywood outfit that represents stars, producers and directors. The young L.A. newcomer may not be as clearheaded and full of self-knowledge as she's intended to be (she does jump topless into the agency head's pool with a lecherous producer), but she's a paragon of virtue compared to her boss, Scott Wagner, who is loutish, sex-obsessed, terminally addicted to any abusable substance, lazy and overbearing. Despite her misgivings and scads of unjustified abuse, Elizabeth throws herself into Xeroxing and party planning ("Dancers from Crazy Girls on La Brea. Though only small-nippled girls") and is rewarded by brushes with a parade of A-list personalities (Cameron, Jennifer, George, Harvey). The insider peeks at Tinseltown are more engrossing than the plot, but a hot script and backroom Agency dealings keep the pages turning. Contrivances abound—Elizabeth keeps meeting key figures at just the right moment—and the jokes often fall flat. The book undoes itself by offering as chapter headings some of the great dialogue from old movies ("What's the going price on integrity this week?"), and there's simply no comparison between what those old scriptwriters and these joint authors offer up. Still, this is a fast, fun, trashy read. 10-city author tour. (May)

Forecast: Naylor (Dog Handling, etc.) and Hare both have plenty of Hollywood cred. Hare worked in development on Jerry Maguire and As Good As It Gets, and the two are authors of a screenplay, The Accidental Husband, which will star Uma Thurman. Their name-dropping and glam lifestyle reporting should snag plenty of browsers.