Anyone who’s spent a lunch hour furtively cruising blind items on gossip blogs will appreciate the setup of Amy Sohn’s Hollywood roman à clef: a famous actor plagued by gay rumors; a pretty starlet eager to be swept off her feet (and up the industry food chain); a canny manager who recognizes an opportunity. The execution, however, may leave even tabloid junkies feeling underfed.
Maddy Freed is the Actress, an earnest, broad-shouldered blonde (picture, perhaps, Greta Gerwig) whose impressive turn in her director boyfriend’s indie drama lands her the attention of critics — and of Steven Weller, a box office star with jocular leading-man charm and a long string of decorative ex-girlfriends (George Clooney, call your lawyer). Soon enough, Maddy is whisked from her Brooklyn walk-up into an A-list Neverland of premieres, private jets, and Italian palazzi. That life as Steven’s costar on and off screen is not without complications won’t surprise most readers, though it seems to shock the hell out of Maddy. And that’s The Actress‘ problem: Maddy is a protagonist so obtuse she strains credulity, and so shrill she’s impossible to root for, let alone envy.
Sohn usually has a gift for awful characters; her last two novels, Motherland and Prospect Park West, were superbly schadenfreude-y skewerings of New York narcissism. Hollywood should be an even riper subject, and it’s clearly a world she knows well. But the story is oddly airless, and her telling lacks both the cheap thrills of a trashy paperback and the deeper insights of literary fiction. It does The Actress — and actresses — no favors. C+