March 28, 2013
43 Old Cemetery Road, Book Five: Hollywood, Dead Ahead. By Kate Klise. Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Harcourt. $15.99.
I Represent Sean Rosen. By Jeff Baron. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $16.99.
There is always some additional grist for the entertainment mill in the antics and excesses of Hollywood, where for the past century overpaid and under-talented people with the right appearance and sufficient deficiency of scruples have become America’s version of royalty – until they go too far and audiences move on to the next person who is famous for being famous. The Klise sisters have a great deal of fun with Hollywood stereotypes – and remember that stereotyping exists because it is, at some level, an accurate portrayal – in their fifth visit to 43 Old Cemetery Road. This is the house in Ghastly, Illinois, where author Ignatius B. Grumply and ghost Olive C. Spence live with their adopted son, Seymour Hope, whose name (“see more hope”) is but one of the entirely apposite appellations in Hollywood, Dead Ahead. As always in this series, the book is told through printed matter: letters (the only way Olive can communicate with the living), newspapers, scandal sheets, even a transcription of a climactic movie scene. In this book are a slimy, scheming studio owner named Moe Block Busters (“more blockbusters”); his even slimier and more-scheming assistant, Myra Manes (“my remains,” with a pun on “mane” as hair, which turns out to be important); and his almost-equally-slimy would-be successor as studio head, Phillip D. Rubbish (self-explanatory). There is also a 92-year-old star who has won every Hollywood award except an Oscar and is therefore named Ivana Oscar. And there are Luke Ahtmee (“look at me”), image-makeover specialist, and tooth-makeover specialist dentist Dr. Miles Smyle, and (back home in Ghastly) an overreaching and overconfident handyman named Hugh Briss (“hubris”) who gets his comeuppance, or come-downance, in the end. The rollicking plot has Iggy, Olive and Seymour cheated out of their work by Moe Block Busters, who is determined to create a film that instead of featuring Olive will be about an evil ghost named Evilo (“Olive” spelled backwards). A horrendous contract and ridiculous makeovers combine to infuriate and depress Iggy and Seymour, while an even worse contract including a “death clause” almost makes the awful movie into Ivana Oscar’s final performance, until eventually the tables are appropriately turned and everything works out all right for everyone except the bad guys, Hugh Briss, and FAA inspector Don Worrie, who may tell travelers “don’t worry” but who finds Olive’s presence on flights both worrisome and puzzling. Self-referential newspaper ads about upcoming movies and new chapters of (what else?) 43 Old Cemetery Road add to the fun in a book that shows there is certainly no place like home, or if there is, it certainly isn’t Hollywood.
Still, the allure of Hollywood – all that fame, all that money – is never-ending, and the fact that there is something juvenile about all the grabbiness and self-importance merely means that Hollywood wannabes are good subjects for books for young readers. Say, ones about 13 years old – which is the age of Sean Rosen in Jeff Baron’s debut novel (although Baron has previously written plays and screenplays). I Represent Sean Rosen is a typical Hollywood tale, G-rated for the readership at which it is targeted, with some cleverness in presentation and an underlying premise that isn’t nearly as far-fetched as you might think when you first hear it: Sean has a blockbuster script to sell to Hollywood (where scripts do seem to have been mostly written by 13-year-olds), but he knows he can’t do it on his own and needs an agent/manager…so he invents one named Dan Welch. And grabs an E-mail address for DanWelchManagement. And is quickly off and running, complete with podcasts and meetings via Skype and the Web site www.SeanRosen.com (which, not surprisingly, really exists, as part of the is-this-reality-or-isn’t-it premise of the book). So Sean makes his lists (“when I have a lot to do, I make a list”), keeps up minimally with his school work, and stays focused where he really wants to focus: “The movie idea. I love movies. How hard can it be to come up with one? It’s not like I actually have to make a movie by tomorrow. Or even write a script for a movie by tomorrow. All I need for tomorrow is an idea for a movie. Or a series of movies.” And of course Sean wows everybody with his concept, A Week with Your Grandparents, which the Hollywood types like because (like most Hollywood movies) it is a little bit of one successful film and a little bit of another and is slightly different but not so different that anybody would have to, you know, take a real chance and get creative and maybe lose his or her job if the thing crashed and burned. Well, all goes swimmingly for Sean, who inevitably discovers that without creativity – and, more specifically, creative control – his vision will not be his anymore, so he learns an important lesson and finds tremendous success in ways that really count. And makes a bunch of money in the process. I Represent Sean Rosen isn’t quite satirical or sarcastic enough to be as funny as Baron seems to want it to be, and it isn’t all that unusual on the wish-fulfillment scale, either. But this (+++) book is well-paced, written to be super-easy to read, and enjoyable both in itself and through its online tie-ins. The total cluelessness of Sean’s parents, typical enough in books of this sort, is overdone, and an eventual twist in which Sean finds out why his father never finished college does not evoke the emotion that it seems designed to bring out. But most readers of more-or-less Sean’s age will simply enjoy the fantasy here and not look too closely at the plot or the very thin characterizations. And that, come to think of it, means that I Represent Sean Rosen fits into Hollywood thinking very well indeed.