Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Love Thing

The Love Thing, by Hugh Barron
June, 1970 Pyramid Books

I can't believe I let summer pass me by without reading a Burt Hirschfeld novel; the guy's books are perfect summer reading. I realized this around mid-October and so proceeded to read The Love Thing, one of Hirschfeld's last novels to be published under his "Hugh Barron" psuedonym. Given that it was still 90 degrees here in Dallas, my "home" of the past several years, it was like summer hadn't ended anyway. (But then, "summer" really isn't an appropriate term for the season here; "hell on earth" would be more fitting.)

Once again the cover compares Hirschfeld's novel to Jacqueline Susann, and The Love Thing does focus on the Hollywood life, only it's not as trashy or campy as you'd wish. In fact the novel was kind of boring; once again Hirschfeld has stuffed too many characters into a novel too thin on plot or action. "The Love Thing" is Maggie Love, a 40 year-old screen superstar who has gone to seed, drinking heavily and gaining weight, her star fading fast. (In other words, Elizabeth Taylor circa 1970.) She's just starred in a big studio picture titled The Big Ones, and the gist of the novel is the studio's attempts to publicize the new film.

Maggie really isn't the protagonist here; again, there are many characters, but the foremost two are Roger Hare, a wily PR man who will do anything to get into a position of power, and Tony Parker, one of Roger's PR men, but a guy with a bit more class and heart. A big portion of The Love Thing is devoted to Tony's failing marriage with his wife Serena (feel free to make up your own Bewitched joke). In fact, too damn much of the novel is given over to this middling storyline.

Events are spread over several weeks as various characters attend meetings and go to the occasional party; here Hirschfeld shines, with his usual dopesmoking groovy psychedelic-era sequences of hotpants-wearing girls swinging it to pounding mod freakbeat while older guys watch the action from behind beaded curtains, smoking Chesterfields and wondering how they can get in on the action. But unfortunately such scenes are few and far between. The novel misses that flair for trash Hirschfeld displays in his other novels, and comes off as the fulfilment of a contract with Pyramid Books.

Like many Hollywood novels of the era, The Love Thing is concerned with the "death" of the Hollywood studio system and the emergence of the "New Hollywood" (which didn't last nearly as long); many characters spend pages discussing cinema verite and the work of artsy French directors.

And "The Love Thing" herself is lost in the shuffle; Maggie Love is of course the most interesting thing here, a fallen star given to drink and excess, preparing for her death trip. There could've been a great novel here about the lady, in fact a novel that would've justified the Jacqueline Susann comparisons, but instead we have tiresome sequences of various characters discussing PR events and Tony Parker wondering how he can win back his wife.

The best thing about The Love Thing is the cover for the New English Library edition, which was published in 1971. This was actually the cover that got me obsessed with finding all of the Hugh Barron novels a few years ago:

And you've gotta love the mirror image on the back cover:

Like the majority of the Hugh Barron novels, The Love Thing was reprinted by Dell Books in 1984 under Hirschfeld's own name. The cover for this edition is pretty cool, too:


Tim Mayer said...

Ah. New Hollywood. That brief period between EASY RIDER and STAR WARS.

John Nail said...

I know when I was reading Valley of the Dolls and The Love Machine and pretty much any other novel about the sleazy goings-on in the entertainment industry, I, like so many others, had the same nagging question in the back of my mind: But what about the publicists? Aren't we all glad Burt Hirschfeld answered that question? I was certainly surprised that studio publicists were such a rape-y bunch. And that they wielded so much power in 1970 (now, of course, 99.9% of movies appear to be conceived by studio marketing departments, so maybe Hirschfeld was surprisingly prescient).

I agree that way too much time was given to Tony Parker's story line, and much of the book drags overall. Also, was I alone in thinking the timeline at the beginning was a little screwed up? It starts with Roger Hare meeting with the studio head Arthur Wilton, who mentions flying to California the next week to check on the production of The Big Ones. Then in chapter two Maggie Love is attending a Hollywood party where she encounters Wilton, but in chapter three Tony Parker is introduced and it's mentioned it's the same morning that Hare was meeting with Wilton in chapter one. I probably wasted too much brain power worrying about that, but it bugged me, almost as much as Hirschfeld's long-winded sex scenes that tried too hard to be explicit but not pornographic, with the end result being that they were kind of boring. Still, I found the book to be mildly entertaining, if not all that satisfying. The Love Thing definitely isn't the best Hugh Barron novel to start with, unless you happen to find a low-priced copy in mint condition on eBay like I did.