Reel Lyfe: Chasing the Hollywood Dream
Many people go to Hollywood to chase their dreams, but only a relative few actually make them come true. This is a city where the streets are filled with performers, where every restaurant and store is staffed by hopefuls aspiring to become actors or writers. In Reel Lyfe, Vertis Nephew examines a small slice of Hollywood. He focuses on five main characters, all of whom could be considered Hollywood stereotypes. Jenna is a teacher who dreams of becoming an actress; she has gone on more than seventy auditions for bit parts in the past year. Andrew wants to be an actor and doesn’t understand why his numerous roles in plays have only led to modeling gigs, which he supplements by working part-time for his cousin’s contracting business. Wendy is a high-powered and stressed-out television executive who moonlights as a stand-up comedian. Carol works at Ashville & Associates, where she dreams of redesigning the business in a way that actually helps people instead of giving them false hope via an abundance of auditions. Khalid is a single father who has hopes of becoming a script writer, but works in the meantime doing set construction. Interwoven throughout these lives is that of Chrissy DePauw, a singer/songwriter who actually has talent but is unwilling to compromise her ideals in order to get anywhere with her music. As the book progresses, these characters become increasingly frustrated as their attempts to break into the business bear no fruit.
This book is a surprisingly good read due to the amount of realism injected into the characters. The concept of people living double lives is prevalent, and the accompanying stress is true-to-life. The most stark example is Khalid, who takes on the more “mainstream” name of Kenny in his occupation as a movie set builder. He struggles to retain his true identity in the face of a high-maintenance girlfriend who thinks he’s more involved in the “business” than he actually is, and friends and family who give credence to many “black” stereotypes. The most well-developed character is Jenna. Her struggles as an aspiring actress directly affect her teaching career, and her boss and coworkers can tell her heart is not in eduction. The Hollywood pressure to be a stick figure is real, and Nephew has an unexpected grasp of female body issues. Jenna’s self-deprecating thoughts — “How is it possible to see my ribs but still feel fat?” — ring true for many women, not just those in the performance industry. However, her sudden questioning of her own sexuality seems a little forced, and her infatuation with coworker Lisa was a little too cliché for me. Perhaps least developed is Wendy; we know very little about her role in the television industry, and Nephew does not delve particularly deeply into her dreams of being a comic. She actually seems rather ill-suited for the job; she is terrified of being on stage. She breaks down in tears and misses her only set in the book. We never actually see her perform, and while we witness her writing and getting out new ideas, readers may be left wondering if she has any actual potential in the field of comedy.
Nephew has a good writing style. The chapters flow smoothly, and the characters are complex enough to keep a reader’s interest. Part of the appeal of having so many characters is seeing how their lives overlap. One of the most amusing scenes is a party where Carol meets her client Jenna, even though Jenna has no idea Carol is her agent. Unfortunately, this also highlights a lack of continuity with regards to timelines; the scene was revealed from the points of view of both characters, but there were chapters featuring other characters in between, which left me with a sense of disconnect. Trying to cover this many characters in a relatively short book also leads to none of them being as well-developed as they could be. I would have appreciated a little more background on Andrew, and I wasn’t entirely sure if he was aspiring to be an actor or a model.
The visual format of this book breaks away from more traditional layouts and, depending on how you view it, could be considered edgy and different, or simply a way to fill space and make the book appear longer. All of the dialogue was in italics, which was a little off-putting to me. Italics make me think more of internal thoughts than spoken words. Reel Lyfe could also use the services of a detail-oriented editor. The author has a habit of interchanging question marks with periods or commas, especially when people are speaking: “Why can’t I write like this,” “I thought you were looking forward to this?”
Ultimately, this book was a relatively satisfying read, with most of the characters actively working to be happy in their lives. Every chapter had just enough action to hold the reader’s attention but not so much as to be overwhelming, and the constant switches between different character points of view kept the plot from lagging. This book is a nice glimpse into the world of Hollywood hopefuls, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in that life.
Chris Hayden has been working at City Book Review since 2012, so that makes him the keeper of knowledge. He manages the office and book reviewers (all 200 of them!), which is no small feat. If you’re looking at the book reviews here, you’re seeing them because he sent the books out for review. Without him, this place would fall apart, because no one else in the office knows how to use the postage machine. Two words: job security.
|Page Count||286 pages|
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