Wednesday, June 29, 2005

BOOKS: Sizeable Assets


Star Wood Leigh becomes a star in Pamela Anderson’s debut novel Star: a novel

That Pamela Anderson would add “writer” to her résumé was improbable and unexpected; that her novel, Star (written with the ghostwriting abilities of Eric Shaw Quinn), would be a thinly veiled autobiography was not. For what else does she have to share or know other than her own high glam life? Those with any familiarity of Anderson’s bio might say that the cover of the book explains everything. Naked with white stars painted all over her body which make her strategically covered sizeable assets that much more tempting and irresistible—this is the stuff her reputation is made of. Indeed, early press releases indicate that her debut novel was going to be titled “From the Waist Up.” (She signed a 2-book deal with Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster; Star Struck is to be released August 16). Like Paris Hilton and Jenna Jameson before her, Pamela hopes to parlay her reputation as a sex icon into commercial literary success. If The New York Times Bestseller list is any indication, her book has become a runaway success, and thus deserves a decent review.

If Anderson was a non-fiction writer she would be fired from her job for the same reason New York Times reporter, and now novelist, Michael Finkel was fired from his (see his excellent book True Story). While he never violated the spirit of the truth, the facts didn’t check out. It is not going too far to suspect that, like Finkel, Anderson’s Star contains nothing that is not true in spirit (or at least nothing that Anderson didn’t convey to her ghost writer over lunches), but it is a waste of time to try and match the fictional characters to their real-life counterparts because the latter serve not as brute facts but as so much raw material used liberally to shape the former.

After all, it is a novel, even if one preordained to “beach read” status: "Small-town girl comes to California; falls into a lot of different traps here and there, shoots for a very sexy magazine, and meets powerful men. It's fiction!" Anderson said, laughing, in an interview. Yes, fiction…

In her fictitious story, Pamela Anderson Star lives in Canada Florida and is discovered by a beer company, Labatts Zax beer, when she was spotlighted on the stadium jumbotron wearing a tight Zax beer T-shirt. “And there she was.” And there they were. She became the new star in Zax beer ads, the official Miss R&R. Then Playboy Mann magazine, a national magazine celebrating sex, invited her to the mansion Castle in L.A.—Hugh HefnerMarsten Mann’s opulent hilltop home stocked with the world’s most beautiful women and the richest and most famous men—for a photo shoot. She was chosen for the cover. “It’s for real.” Encouraged by her mother’s wisdom—“Life is like sex. It’s not always good, but it’s always worth trying”—Star moved to L.A.

What will she do in L.A.?

Men. At the Castle Star meets her television idols and some of her future lovers: Van Pursens or “Stormy” from Hip-Hop Cops, TV star Vince Piccolo, and producer Peter Rodick. After the Mann shoot, she gets a job on the TV show Home Improvement Hammer Time, a half-hour sitcom about the life of a family man who hosts a home-makeover show, as the sexy, almost naked Hammer Time Girl. “Her character was there to help push the products because of how she looked in a T-shirt.” Soon enough Star finds herself on the cover of Informer, a tabloid magazine.

Star makes it big, really big, around the time she decides to get breast implants to feel more confident as the Miss March centerfold for Mann (we learn that she can still wear the same-sized bras as before; they’re just a little more snug). Soon after she will begin playing a role in Baywatch Lifeguards, Inc., a job that requires her to work at the beach a few days a week. Star never has to worry about Mae West’s maxim: “I’d rather be looked over than overlooked.” Star just naturally attracted extra attention, especially from men. Local guys had always looked hungrily at her nicely filled out body, the body that California attracted, that Hollywood guys pursued, that magazines and the press pictured, that television and movie producers sought. Once her breasts bloomed—“and bloom she did”—this small town girls life bloomed, too. As her younger brother, Hank, summed it up at her going-away party: “Come listen to my story ‘bout a girl named Star. Had a magic T-shirt that took her very far.”

II.

Star is as much a symbol of sex as Marsten Mann’s Castle. Sexual sessions are used to punctuate and structure the story, which alternates between the career breaks she lucks upon and the men (and women) she plays with as she evolves into the notorious high profile rock-star dating Pamela Anderson.

Anderson knows her readers want the dirt on her sexual life, and its her relations with men that mark the turning points in her life. Yet the descriptions of her sexual relations don’t tell us much beyond her sexual preferences (she doesn’t like fast lovers, she prefers very skilled, handsome, rich men, especially rock stars, who are fans of foreplay and oral sex and are adventurous if not also a little bit exhibitionist), and the book ends with clumsy attempts to make the book more fun and sexy by doubling the pages devoted to description of sexual acts. If it starts out as a tale of the thrill of a small town girl going to Hollywood to become her own independent woman, it ends with two chapters—“Hollywood nights” and “life in the fast lane”—that feature her lavish life of sex, Castle parties and her love-hate relationship with the press: “The trouble is we [stars] want them to look when we want them to look, but we don’t want them to look when we don’t want them to look. I guess you can’t have it both ways.”

As Virginia Woolf reminds us, a good memoir or autobiography does not just say, “This is what happened”; but what the person was like to whom it happened. We want to know about Star and how the world looks through her eyes. It is in this regard that Star is not a contribution to literature but, as Atria books intends, a piece of commercial fiction of interest chiefly to fans of Pamela.

Ghostwriter Quinn is unable to show us Star and her world in 294 pages. Instead, he has Star’s friends and family tell the reader about her character. We are told that Star always tries to find the best in people and always makes the best out of everything. She always has a top-of-the-world mood. “Honestly, I think I could have a good time with her at a bus terminal,” says her friend Theresa. Most obvious is her characteristic “naïveté” that lends her a certain unintentional wit and that disarms and compels others to feel protective toward her. These pages ring with authenticity, as they surely reveal a bit of Anderson’s smart mouth and ability to be herself. Star is free of the need, as only very pretty women can be, for her to understand the ins and outs of life, particularly of conversations—“Sometimes I just have no idea what you are talking about, Star said, smiling and shaking her head at Billy, who only laughed harder.”

One can’t help feeling that while Star lives a luxurious and lavish life, her main aim in leaving home—to be her own woman—is incompatible with her temperament and highly public life. Star sets great store by her independence—no man has been able to possess her for long—yet she yearns to marry, to get serious and settle down. But as the guys got wilder, Star was too willing to go along for the ride. One wonders if her book is not an attempt to leave her wild life behind and get serious at settling down by poking fun at her previous life.

2 comments:

PiedPiper said...

I find it interesting that in a book review where you lament hastily produced sex scenes intended to titillate fans of Pamela Anderson, you wrap the text around a picture of her in the buff. Sex sells...and it even sells articles about the way sex sells. (Well, maybe not "sells articles" as we're loathfully underpaid for this writing, but you get the point.)

Ilya said...

Unintended irony.