cover image Pay or Play

Pay or Play

Jon Boorstin. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0359-3

Boorstin's Hollywood satire, his first novel, is so good it reads like a documentary even when events are patently absurd and incredible. That's the fun. And that's Hollywood. Elmo Zwalt, his psyche ""like a clenched fist,"" writes a screenplay called The Agonizer. An ambitious mail clerk in a powerful agency snatches it from the trash, but he's muscled out by a seasoned mandarin agent who sells the script to a star with heat, Klaus Frotner (rumored to have been a Balkan killer before he became a star). A producer is attached, and he tacks on a director, Chris Parrott, and a calculating studio exec, Annette Foray. Meanwhile, Homer Dooley, a pedestrian film teacher at a Vermont junior college, makes a documentary about plywood (his first film) which, through believable and hilarious turns, wins an Academy Award. That gets Foray's attention just as her problems with The Agonizer gain force: the rewritten script isn't working and, since the story is set in a rain forest, Parrott has built an $8-million forest set in Culver City because the real jungle ""didn't look right."" Result: Parrott is out and Homer Dooley, neophyte (but ""brilliant"" and controllable), is summarily whisked off to New Guinea to put Elmo Zwalt's original vision on film. This doomed escapade brings everyone back to a form of reality in gruesomely satirical scenes that make real life sound completely untrue. Heaping equal scorn on pretentious aesthetes and big-business blusterers, using wild hyperbole in the service of genuine insight, Boorstin has written the definitive send-up of Hollywood. (Mar.)