Monday, February 06, 2012

Not Famous Anymore by Michael Loyd Gray

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Paperback: 260 pages
• Publisher: Three Towers Press, 2011
• Price: $14.95 (Kindle: $9.95)
• ISBN-10: 1595981578
• ISBN-13: 978-1595981578

Elliott Adrian is famous. Very famous. And he hates that. He hates that and he also hates it—the mystical qualities with which some are blessed (or cursed, depending on one’s perspective) and that propel such people toward fame. There are entire chapters in Michael Loyd Gray’s new novel, Not Famous Anymore, devoted to explaining what it is and what that is. Good for a chortle.

As the story opens, we see Elliott as a 10-year-old boy, not quite holding his own against a group of adolescent bullies, in mid-swing with a Samurai sword. A horrible accident is about to happen. It’s a stunning opening and pulls the reader instantly in for the ride, although the results and ripple effects of the accident with the sword become undertext in the rest of the novel, a reminder of who Elliott is outside of the limelight, and what he still needs to do to become a man. Because it does not make the man.

The Hollywood scene is appropriately tacky, even distasteful. When we see Elliott in Hollywood, he’s really nobody you want to know. Ironically, that seems to be the way of stardom—the people who throw off glitz like an encumbrance are not particularly likeable once you are in the same room and get to know them close up and personal.

So is Elliott Adrian a character to whom I never was quite able to warm up to. I didn’t like him much better when he left Hollywood. He was perverse and shallow and arrogant in the glitz, and he didn’t acquire much more substance as he ran away from fame. He just became a tad less annoying. He complained about the world that made him wealthy and provided a life of ease, looking for ways to return to the more or less normalcy of the non-famous, but the whine wasn’t entirely convincing.

Something about that premise didn’t sit entirely well with me. One sees the complaining star waving away the paparazzi, even occasionally throwing fists at them, but it all seems a bit of extended showmanship. This was, after all, the fame the celebrity craved at some point? How many screen stars would pursue acting without it? Civic theatres abound, join the troupe. As for losing fame, I suspect it’s easy enough. We live in a world of attention deficit disorder and short memory spans. The next big thing, please. Walk away from the money, walk away from the lights and cameras, and I am pretty sure the world will forget you soon enough if you really are interested in being a regular guy—mind you, without the Hollywood attitude.

That said, I found Elliott most likeable when he was mostly alone in the woods with a cat. Camping in some remote southern spot, befriending a lonely cat that wanders by his campfire and watches him fish, both man and animal become, well, almost endearing. It’s hard to resist a guy who lets a cat curl up in his lap.

Soon after, the still famous actor goes home to Argus, Illinois (a fictional town we have seen in other Michael Loyd Gray novels). It’s at least a little predictable that he will run into a long lost love there who really doesn’t want to have much to do with him. While cameras follow to record some of this (Elliott still agrees to allow them to shoot film for a “reality” show), they vanish pretty conveniently when the story does better without them.

Elliott’s long lost love is single again. She has a daughter. When Elliott shows an inexplicably intense interest in meeting the daughter, it’s pretty clear to the reader how this storyline will end. No surprises here.

Best moments: Elliott reunites with a brother who has had a very different life indeed. His brother is fresh out of prison, in fact, and the two have some unresolved emotions to explore and settle. These interactions are when we get to see Elliott from his more human side, entering the world of the “regular guy,” which, in fact, can have far more meaningful drama than Hollywood will ever see.

Gray is a strong writer, no question, but I have enjoyed some of his other work more than this novel. Well Deserved, another novel set in the town of Argus, showed a sharp skill in both telling a good story and telling it well. Gray’s skill at turning a sentence is evident in Not Famous Anymore, too, although the story is less intriguing and the characters less colorful. Perhaps it’s the bleaching effect of the klieg lights.

Regardless, watch this author. I suspect he may achieve some fame of his own. There’s always room on the shelf for another skilled writer. The balance of reading more than one of his novels convinces me to pick up the next one to come.