California Literary Review

Trashed by Alison Gaylin

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November 8th, 2007 at 11:08 am

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Trashed
by Alison Gaylin
NAL Hardcover, 336 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★½☆

Bad Ending Trashes Good Plot

The joys of working for one of Hollywood’s scandal sheets – a rags to riches story for Simone Glass who is attempting to outdo her “legitimate” TV journalist sister in the news gathering racket – are manifest and many. In Alison Gaylin’s Trashed Glass heads to LA for a job with another scandal sheet that folds before her first day on the job only to latch on with the infamous Asteroid. Her sister and the rest of her family will not be thrilled in the least when they learn of her career choice. Matters are further complicated by Simone’s near complete lack of money to see her through the first few months in California.

Our heroine, a recent graduate of Columbia journalism school, is not nearly ready for the nefarious, dumpster diving antics employed and needed by the hardcore souls who ply their dirt-digging trade for the tabloids. These driven individuals scour celebrity garbage cans, pose as anyone but themselves, lie as though the truth was a concept to be scorned and in general have all of the journalistic ethics commonly associated with FOX News. Getting the goods on the rich and famous is all that matters in this weird league.

Glass’s first assignment drives her undercover posing as a waiter at a ostentatious benefit and she actually holes up in a, surprise, dumpster outside the party hearing what proves to be crucial dialogue between a famous actor and up-and-coming actress who also turns out to be Glass’s former high school best friend. Ah, but aren’t the twists and turns of the glamour life so intriguing? When a soap opera star commits suicide and the actress’s emotionally unstable assistant insists that someone murdered her boss, Glass sets out to dig up the real, untold details. Life and the road to enlightenment turn ugly and bloody from here on out as a teenage stripper with sordid celebrity connections is found soaked in her own blood and as Vonnegut would say, “And so it goes.” Even Simone’s most trusted sources start tripping the dance paranoid while the psychopathic killer runs amuck dishing out oblique leads as he kills his way ever onward.

The insights into the tabloid Hollywood world of reporting are interesting and Gaylin writes with a touch of flare, even panache, but as in City of Fire by Robert Ellis, the ending comes out of nowhere with little if any foreshadowing along the way. Its as though the author wearied of working on Trashed and whipped together a supposed surprising and shocking ending that was designed to make the reader feel not quite cheated in pursuing the previous 300 pages.

Gaylin, a journalist who has covered arts and entertainment for ten years, is the author of Hide Your Eyes, an Edgar Award finalist for Best First Novel, and You Kill Me. She has escaped Hollywood and now lives in upstate New York with her family.

There is a good deal to recommend this novel – the inside depiction of Hollywood and all its seaminess, the sub pots that add to the main story arc including her growing love affair with Neil Walker – also a tabloid reporter, her chaotic and humorous work relationship with her tyrannical and mildly schizophrenic boss at the paper, and the quality of writing such as:

If one year at the Anaheim Sentinel and ten years in the tabloids had taught Neil Walker anything, it was that press conferences, all of them were a complete waste of time. It didn’t matter whether it was the mayor of Mission Viejo or the chief of police or the cast of Devil’s Road, anybody who is knowingly standing on a stage in front of fifty reporters is not going to say damn thing worth printing.

Or this scene setting paragraph:

…Like everything else in the Beverlido, Swifty’s had undergone a sort of retro face-lift. With its dark wood paneling, Tiffany light fixtures, and elaborate 1930s-style ashtrays (those important enough to get in were actually allowed to smoke), the bar was designed to make you feel like you’d stepped into an unusually glamorous time capsule. It was, as they say, art directed to death.

There is a constant thread of tension in the professional competition between Simone and her sister that ties much of the narrative together, as does her competition with Walker and their on-again, off-again partnership aimed at getting a hot story and discovering the identity of the killer. The sections devoted to the mildly depraved, lewd and pathetic behavior of some of the film industries glitterati are well drawn as are passages that deal with the attitude and machinations of a big-time agent, but what undoes Trashed for me is the out of the blue ending that Gaylin attempts to justify with a semi-emotional final scene. But as she says to Walker in the book’s last line when he asks her how a meeting went, Glass responds:

“It went,” said Simone. “”It went.”

I guess the same thing can be said of Trashed.

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