Black Lawrence Press
First Edition: October 16, 2012
Thank heavens Tracy DeBrincat understands the glitter and glitz of Hollywood; the egotism, the diva moves and the dreams of avarice that go with the Beverly Hills landscape. If she didn’t have such a feel for the movie industry and all its stereotyped follies and foibles, she wouldn’t have been able to write such a delightfully refreshing novel as Hollywood Buckaroo, where the offbeat players have a human side and the happily ever after is about as far away from a fairy tale fadeout as you can get.
Sander Sanderson is not your typical “not your typical Hollywood anti-hero”. He’s more like the loser roommate you’re glad you left behind. But honestly, not every aspect of his being a loser is his own fault. Really. For example, at the start of the story, he misses his dad’s funeral, not because he’s drunk or hung over, or because he’s suffering some kind of deeply evidenced personal angst, but because his car won’t start. And he can’t find his jumper cables. Now, that he let his car get to that point and that he lost his jumper cables in the mess of his life, and that he doesn’t have the cash for a cab is part of him being a loser, but he really didn’t anticipate car trouble on the morning of his father’s funeral…or he was hoping he wouldn’t have car trouble on the morning of his father’s funeral?
Sander’s father, Bobby Sanderson, had been the Plumber to the Stars. Fast, courteous, and above all, discreet, Bobby Sanderson and his El-San Plumbing Company was a mainstay of the Hollywood jet set, at least when the toilets back up on the day of the socialite function of the year. Sander was being groomed to follow in this father’s footsteps and he had plenty of experience working by his father’s side, but Sander didn’t want to be a plumber. He didn’t want his father’s life. He wanted to be…. wait for it… a screenwriter.
But, as we all know, almost everyone in LA wants to be a screenwriter, and even college awards and accolades do not get your foot in the door when there are so many people vying for attention. It helps, too, if you’ve actually got a screenplay to shill. Sander doesn’t have a screenplay. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, either. That was a much more recent development than his lack of a screenplay, and he’s still reeling from it, especially since his girlfriend left him for someone not nearly as good looking or funny, but still, someone who is currently upwardly mobile. Someone who Sander wants to be. But for now Sander is back helping his dad with the family business. In fact, with Sander back, his dad was able to take it easy, stay in the office more, relax a bit while Sander takes the service calls. After all, the business is supposed to be the kid’s once the old man is gone, right?
But then comes the infamous Pink Glove incident, the incensed customer, the damage control that finds Bobby Sanderson back in the trenches – literally – since Sander’s tact seems to be as non-existent as his writing career. And it is this need to be back in the field keeping an eye on his son that may or may not have contributed to Bobby’s fatal heart attack knee deep in a septic tank. Sander’s mother certainly thinks so. And his sister. So while Sander doesn’t have a screenplay or a girlfriend, he does have a lot of guilt. That’s not why he missed his father’s funeral, however. It’s because his car wouldn’t start. Really.
Like every good Hollywood story, however, this is just the jumping off point. Of course, Sander makes an unexpected contact at the family soiree following the funeral, and of course that leads to an exciting possibility that of course goes in unexpected and slightly bizarre directions. In this case, it means a directing gig (just a hamburger commercial, but still – a directing gig!) set to shoot at an iconic Hollywood location: the old west town of Buckaroo, California. Part frontier neighborhood, part show business vehicle and part historic homage to the cowboy movies of old, Buckaroo is full of residents who are hyper-stereotyped. Yet Ms. DeBrincat fills these eccentrics with a freshness and a humanity that makes them come alive. Sure, sometimes she ventures into the ludicrous, but this is Hollywood, baby!
And more often than not, she hits the mark. Her handling of Sander’s growing awareness of his parents as having lives as provocative and complex as his own and of his journey of self-realization is spot on and beautifully nuanced. So many times I assumed I knew what was going to happen or how Sander was going to react simply because the story was unfolding in a tried and true fashion, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised.
Some places have something about them that remind you how measly you are in the scheme of things, not in a way that makes you feel helpless, but in the way that makes you feel like you’re part of the plan and connected to everything else, no matter how inconsequential you might feel. My eyes tear up at the thought of Dad having that feeling. Somehow, I conspired to see him as my own personal pain the ass, instead of another piece of the cosmic pie, same as me, with doubts and fears and grandiose dreams. Something loosens around the center of my chest.
Yes, sometimes Ms. DeBrincat misses the mark. A detailed and prolonged description of intestinal distress, the idea that a fast food chain would embrace images of cat scratch sex to sell hamburgers, and a video unveiled at the White House with full on nudity are ridiculous and frankly, unnecessary. And yes, there are too many story lines that have to resolve far too frenetically, giving the end of the book the feel of a B-movie that has run over budget and is desperate to wrap things up. But there are so many wonderful scenes and fun characters in this book, that these points are mere distractions and not actual hindrances.
If you hearken for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, if you like John Wayne movies, if your cowboy boots are actually scuffed, OR if you are interested in what really goes on during a film shoot… or even if you think chickens are fascinating creatures, pick up a copy of Hollywood Buckaroo. You’ll have a fun time at the Okay Corral (no, I really mean the “Okay” Corral – that’s in Buckaroo), guaranteed.