Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Acapulco, by Burt Hirschfeld
October, 1972 Dell Books

Acapulco was first released in hardcover in 1971, coming out after Hirschfeld's breakout hit Fire Island. And it's mosty the same novel, another "beach read" -- a large, diverse group of people come to a scenic locale and deal with their various hangups while getting hammered and having sex. Of the two I think Fire Island is the better novel, even though Acapulco is really good in its own right. There's just something missing here, as if Hirschfeld has spread himself too thin with the huge cast of characters and subplots.

At the center of the novel is Paul Foreman, a gifted director who, after hitting it sort of big with a low-budget film, now drinks himself to death in a Mexican slum. Enter Harry Bristol, loudmouthed producer who's shooting a new movie titled Love, Love (really) in Acapulco -- Bristol's got his star, he's got his crew, he's got his funding...he's got everything but a director, because he fired the last one after a day's work due to the man's insistence upon retakes. Bristol is a man who cares only for money and hopes to become rich with the success of Love, Love.

The filmmakers are the central characters of the novel, and we see how they affect and interract with others in the expat community of Acapulco (for a novel set in Mexico, there's only one or two actual Mexican characters on display). Prime among these fringe characters is Samantha Moore, a once-famous socialite now in the decline of her glory; she owns a massive estate in Acapulco in which she allows the crew to film a nude swimming scene. Clinging to Samantha is Theo Gavin, an entrepreneur who pretends to be wealthier than he is, and Charles, Theo's hippie son. The father and son have come to Acapulco to reconnect but it's a hopeless cause; and honestly Charles is a deadweight of a character, the male version of Cindy Ashe from Cindy On Fire. Just another bland rich kid who mopes and pines about the world.

Nothing much really happens in Acapulco, though there are some good setpieces. Samantha throws a Christmas costume party at her estate, in which guests come dressed as characters from Mexican history. This is a ribald scene filled with drunk jetsetters and royalty duking it out by the pool. Charles Gavin justifies his presence in the novel by going on an actual dopequest; with a trio of fellow hippies he goes off into the hills in search of "magic mushrooms." Hirschfeld writes the ensuing trip with a nice psychedelic touch. And, unlike boring Cindy Ashe, at least Charles comes out of his trip a changed man.

A lot of narrative is spent on the filming of Love, Love, which sounds truly awful. Imagine Love Story as directed by Dennis Hopper and produced by Roger Corman and you might have an idea. Paul Foreman, the director, is the ostensible lead protagonist here, but he too is a shattered man, a drunk who lashes out at everyone. Paul has a quest of his own, in another of the novel's good moments: he spots a gorgeous caucasian woman in the crowded Acapulco marketplace and is obsessed with finding out who she is. It turns out to be Grace Biondi, another American expat here to study one of the dangerous mountain tribes which lurk about Acapulco. Paul forces himself into her life -- Grace, too, has hangups she must overcome -- and the two gradually fall in love.

Hirschfeld includes all of the trash fiction standards: there's sex, drugs, even a bit of violence. A late plot development features Samantha kidnapped by another of those dangerous mountain tribes, but after a lot of setup Hirschfeld downplays the promised action. In fact, maybe that's the core problem with Acapulco. It just seems like a retread of Fire Island, only without the skill and craftsmanship of that earlier novel. But on the other hand, Acapulco has a bit more of an exotic flair about it, and it better captures the groovy sexadelic era.

As far as the actual writing goes, I'll admit I lack any objectivity when it comes to Hirschfeld's prose. For whatever reason I really enjoy his writing; he has a definite skill for putting you inside a character's head, for creating three-dimensional worlds and situations. I will say however that he's guilty here of a bit too much POV-hopping for my tastes. And also a few of the characters are too similar; Theo Gavin and Harry Bristol could've easily been combined into one character.

Speaking of movies, Acapulco would've made for a fine early '70s film. It again mystifies me that none of Hirschfeld's novels were picked up for a movie; the closest he got was when his '76 bestseller Aspen was turned into a TV miniseries.

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