Reminiscent of middlebrow page-turners containing the tried and true bestseller ingredients of love, lust and money, Sohn’s spectacular potboiler has Maddy Freed and her boyfriend Dan attending the Miles End Film Festival in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their new independent movie is the heart of the matter. Dan, the director, is hoping to sign a lucrative film deal; for Maddy, the movie is a stark reminder at what originally united them in the first place.
Maddy symbolizes Sohn’s fascination with struggling movie people who are yanked from their padded cells of insulation and transported to Hollywood, where fame awaits in a world that reeks of style and long-held cultural givens. Naïve as she is, Maddy is an incredibly gifted actress with intense ambition, even though she worries that she and Dan are “out of their league.”
At a party held by hotshot manager/producer Bridget Ostrow, Maddy meets A-list celebrity Steven Weller. She’s enthralled by the actor’s automatic sexual charisma, while Steven looks at Maddy like he wants to eat her. His heterosexuality seems beyond doubt despite the tabloid chatter and scandalous blogs about a secret life that constantly appear. Whisked off to Berlin to audition for a role with a legendary director, Maddy can’t quite believe she has become a buffer to the two things Steven Weller lacks: heterosexual legitimacy and intellectual credibility. From the first “sick proposal” to becoming a glittery red-carpet escort, Maddy’s rapid rise to stardom signifies the birth of a new talent and a collaboration that will hopefully reignite Steven’s career.
The moral knot of Sohn’s novel centers on the consequences of following the path fate seems to have decided for us. Her first big role finally signed, Maddy falls in love with Steven, seduced by his confident, cool and unmistakably sexual gaze. At first she refuses to take seriously the rumors about his sexuality because his passion for her seems so genuine. But is Steven a master seducer or a deeply gifted actor? Even after he touches her on the red carpet and dances with her at the hottest nightclubs (“his body so hot and near, and brave”) before she knows it, beautiful, glamorous Maddy has become ensnared in a love affair that is not all that it seems.
Appearances can be deceptive, which is part of what Sohn’s brilliant novel sets out to show us as she cleverly lampoons the film industry from the indie circuit to the glamour of the Academy Awards. Skewering the media celebrity culture like no other, the author explores the notion of misplaced love and the loneliness of being unloved and unable to speak to anyone about it. In a world where closeted sexual encounters and strained melodramas abound, Sohn maneuvers through the smoke and mirrors of the Hollywood elite, piercing the town's richest in their fanatical zest for artistic and monetary acquisition.
A slow, heavy doom starts in Maddy’s chest and settles in her stomach. She begins to snoop in Steven’s study, unable to control the notion that her beloved partner is no longer being true to himself or to her. She resents how she’s made herself vulnerable to Steven and all the other wheeler-dealers who make up Hollywood’s fast lane. The many gifts Steven has given Maddy—the press, the money, the exposure, the glamour—do little to assuage a laundry list of brazen deceptions and lighthearted treacheries. Meanwhile, an overly zealous Bridget will stop at nothing to protect her famous client from scandal and blackmail.
The tension of this melodrama builds in twisted and nuanced conversations: Steven, Maddy, Dan, Bridget, and Bridget’s son Zak, who runs his own talent agency and wants to poach Maddy from his mother. Most unlikable, perhaps because of his ambivalence toward the woman he comes to hate and the men he loves, is Steven, who personifies the dilemma of the closeted actor: dominated by fame while plagued with thoughtlessness and fear.