American Dream Machine, Matthew Specktor, Tin House Books, 2013, 460 pp
This big chunk of a novel is about many things. Most obviously it is about Hollywood, specifically about talent agent Beau Rosenwald, who rises to power alongside his friend Williams Farquarsen. Together they build a successful agency which they call American Dream Machine.
It is also about the "American Dream." Rosenwald, son of a plumber from a New York City borough, is the epitome of the self-made man. Of course he has a fatal flaw or two and eventually succumbs to them but not without a fight.
Then it is about three young men, the sons of Beau and Williams, their misspent youths, their wasted, stoned, wild days and nights on the streets, in the canyons, cruising the hoods, the bars, and the beaches of Los Angeles. These are troubled boys in the special way that kids of parents in "the business" as we call it here, are uniquely troubled. Nate, illegitimate son of Beau, narrates and spends his life seeking love and recognition from his father.
If all of that isn't enough, there is a mystery surrounding Beau's partner Williams. Nate finally solves it in the final chapters, but the effects of the mystery are more interesting than the reveal.
I can't say I loved the book but I liked it for many reasons. Despite its tawdry subject, Matthew Specktor is clearly well read in literature, writes with great style and exhibits a delicious love/hate for Hollywood and Los Angeles that permeates his tale. I would go so far as proclaiming him a Saul Bellow for the 21st century. But John Fante, Raymond Chandler and others make their presence felt like ghosts in dark alleys.
American Dream Machine is long, it meanders, in a way it is a man's book. But by the end I didn't want to leave the world of those boys now become men. It was like when I go on a trip. It is a relief to get away from this insane city but I am always so happy to get back.
(American Dream Machine is available in hardcover and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)