By Shannon Nering Bancroft Press 2011 If you’ve ever wondered how realistic “reality tv” is, I have a book for you in Shannon Nering’s Reality Jane. I was unable to put down. It is a story about greed and ambition, the unreality behind “reality tv” and it seems so authentic I didn’t have to wait to read about the author at the end of the book to discover that she has actually been a producer for well-known television shows. In fact, she is still in the biz in her native Vancouver. Jane Kaufman, the protagonist of Reality Jane, is a Canadian broadcast journalist who gets her big break as a production assistant in Los Angeles. Throughout this satire on Hollywood, Canada is in the background as a true reality, a place of reason and sanity in Jane’s mind as she navigates the snake pit of television. A telling moment is the Grammys, to which Jane and her friend and colleague Toni have been invited by their boss. Jane goes to the bathroom, and returns to her seat, only to find it has been filled. Such is life for someone climbing the ladder in a world of rapidly shifting loyalties, back-stabbing and sycophancy, brutal eighteen hour workdays, almost daily airplane flights, and a diet of junk food, interrupted on occasional weekends by alcohol – fueled parties. According to Toni, Jane is to be envied. Beautiful and talented, Jane has to fend off boyfriends (she has three in the course of the book), and is able to see through the clutter so that she runs with opportunities when they are mere shadows. Eventually she becomes a producer on a famous self-help reality show. When the true nature of that show – and celebrity- become obvious to her, she must make a decision about how to live her life. Told in a rapid-fire way, with one dramatic scene leading to the next, snappy dialogue, and some terrific writing, this story struck me as original and compelling, even as the reader wants Jane to slow down and realize what is happening to her. If you want to know how behind-the-scenes television works – and what it does to those who spend their days making entertainment for the rest of us, this book is a fast and enjoyable read.
Landline By Rainbow Rowell St. Martin’s Press 2014 When I read an interview with the author Rainbow Rowell in which she said her mother was very strict and she wasn’t allowed to watch much television or see many movies, I was surprised. Because Georgie, the protagonist in Rowell’s perceptive and amusing novel Landline, is a television comedy writer and her children seem to do little but watch television. You think the world of scriptwriting is glamorous. Think again. Think of wearing the same ratty jeans to work day after day, eating tuna casserole and sleeping in your old bedroom at your mother’s house because it’s too far to go home ( you’re so busy!) and working day in and day out with a writing partner who, a flirtatious male to your plain married self, teases you about not making the coffee. Forget Christmas parties, caroling, or even spending the holiday with your husband and children. I use the second person because the character Rowell has created in her heroine, Georgie, is so engaging we’re right there with her in her black Metallica tee shirt. Rowell shows us a Los Angeles where success is always just around the corner. If Georgie can just work harder, eschew the Christmas break or any kind of social life and allow her husband to question their marriage, she’ll get the deal. The novel begins at this crisis point, when Georgie, bemused by promises that her new show with writing partner Seth is about to be picked up by a big producer, decides not to accompany her family to Nebraska for Christmas, so she can keep on working. Georgie has been married for fifteen years to Neal. But despite loving Neal ( so she insists) her soul-mate is her business partner Seth. Georgie and Seth met in college and now, seventeen years later, his behavior, and to some extent hers, remains sophomoric and self-deluded. Neal is withholding. Georgie’s incessant “I love you’s” to Neal ring hollow when she allows Seth to badmouth him constantly. It is a toxic mix, yet this story does not go where you might expect it to. Kudos to Rowell for that. Georgie is the breadwinner in the family. Her work is writing gags and scenes for situation comedies. We fiction writers understand how we can get caught up in thinking a bunch of words we’ve made on the page actually matter. Somehow, making those words intended for television trivializes them and makes Georgie’s choices seem less than wise. Rowell good-naturedly mocks the writer’s profession and the story spins on what might have been. Rowell is a master of dialogue. Yet serious themes underlie the banter; the absurdity of a culture in which work trumps all, the difficulties of a marriage in which one partner is needy and the other passive-aggressive, the failure of feminism to truly deliver gender equality. And as in so many current novels, the technology of the phone is key to the story. The reader notes in the back of the book ask, “Are you old enough to remember talking on a landline?” That about sums up the YA target audience for whom Rowell usually writes. She reaches here for a group that still struggling to grow up. That’s reflected in the characters, who all display a strange lack of worldliness despite being old enough to be married and to contemplate divorce. Still, the immediacy of Rowell’s writing sparkles and her characters, flawed as they are, are all endearing. You’ll enjoy this one.