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Ben Patrick Johnson: In and Out in Hollywood


By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 10 April 2003—Ben Patrick Johnson's first novel, as is often the case with first novels, is based on the author's experiences. In and Out in Hollywood is your standard first-person novel, in which the hero is party to many humbling and not-so-humbling encounters, and then leaves the tinsel of Hollywood behind for true love in a new city. As in the novel, Johnson was hired to be the co-anchor of a network television show about show business personalities, Extra, but was quickly demoted to a correspondent position with little responsibility. Today he is best known as the voice behind a number of television shows and also movie trailers.

That both Johnson and his hero were sidelined because of their homosexuality, and that being gay is an essential part of the novel, does not, however, make this a gay novel. It is far more than that, an exposé of the shallowness of American television, a television that has always catered to the least common denominator, an example being the hero's lover, Xavier, who is addicted to situation comedies. (In passing, let us note how America's arts channels have deteriorated in recent years, increasingly cultivating the sound-bite mentality.) It is frightening to think that such a powerful medium is in the hands of those who have such monstrous egos and disregard for others that they are oblivious to the world around them.

Freddie/Daniel is a sensitive being who writes poetry to clarify the madness surrounding him, but who nonetheless never ceases kow-towing to his superiors at the studio. We are witness to the ultimate poor vs. rich boy confrontation between Xavier and Freddie, Freddie's need to be understood and his realization that he is ALIVE.

What sustains our interest in the novel is the narrator's growth, his ultimate rejection of Tinsel Town though the author himself remains a player, thereby reinforcing the notion that this is a work of fiction. Daniel's co-anchor, Soleil, is too improbable a character, talking about herself in the third person and throwing tantrums at the least provocation, while Xavier is too much a caricature. Everyone is larger than life, perhaps the case in tv-land, but if you have little respect for what comes out of the talking picture box, you will revel in Johnson's revelations.

On an off note, the book has been shoddily edited and proofread, and I don't think I have ever previously seen a hardback novel in which the publisher advertises his other titles on the last pages of the volume.


Ben Patrick Johnson: In and Out in Hollywood

In and Out in Hollywood
by Ben Patrick Johnson
Paperback: 226 pages
Palari Publishing, Richmond, 2002
ISBN: 1-928662-02-1
$25.00

Ben Patrick Johnson Web Site

Joel Kasow is a senior editor and member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.com

 

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