I wanted to like this book, really I did. It’s got a great theme but it just got so focused on laying a clear path to it’s horizon 149 pages away , that we never really got a chance to enjoy any of the characters. It happens sometimes, especially when the author is invested more in making a point and less in the characters. Our heroine Marcy is a bland cliche, she’s so star struck that it overshadows her dream to become an actress, blurring her motives but so what – so are a million , billion other girls. What else can we say about Marcy? Not much. Marcy is only a pawn to advance the plot, and I know exactly what she’ll learn by the end of the book because I’ve been taught this lesson before.
The Plot –
Marcy No-last-name ( until pg 93 ) , a southern belle – more a southern ding dong ( too harsh? Well she starts out interesting -but as the story takes a dive , Marcy is dragged along with it. ) is determined to nab herself a spot in the new movie being filmed in her small Tennessee town of Wayne Junction ( referred to even by the residents as a hick town. ) Dragging her patient boyfriend, Jimmy, downtown an hour early to the casting call , she finds she’s not the only one with the early bird idea. The High school is already jam packed from old ladies in pink hair curlers to Marcy’s perky friends Betsy and Claire.
But you know Marcy means business , that she loves acting – or stardom as she risks evil looks and defies her own kindness code to butt into line with the old standard – I just went to get a drink of water , they’re holding my place. Nobody buys it.
The opening is the best part of this novel , it’s vibrant , motivated , atmospheric – Rand describes the heat wilting Marcy’s carefully stylized look – her hair [ now hung in limp puffs like copper cotton candy. ] But by the end of the first chapter, the story starts to totter – perhaps on the high heeled entrance of the resident pseudo- badgirl- Susie Morgan. She’s come dressed to kill – or as Marcy corrects us dressed to slaughter. But her description as a Valley Girl ( with Dolly Parton hair ) crossed with a pin up ,and an outfit more suitable for a French Quarter hooker – why even the eleven year olds can guess what’s coming – Susie will blow out as a sex bomb – while the freshly scrubbed good girls , like Marcy will win the parts. Well that sort of happens , you have to have a pseudo bad girl around just to keep things tense so after she is humiliated into scrubbing her face and combing out her curls she gets a part. I call her pseudo bad girl because there are no real bad girls in this story even the voluptuous actress Charmayne with the glorious cheekbones offers no threat. The story is more about Marcy’s own bedazzlement , than romance. But bedazzled over what? Her choice is never made quite clear – acting , Hollywood , Lance. Though we know Marcy wants to be an actress ( she starred in tons of plays ) and seems genuinely interested in the crew and machinations of film making it’s when she gets hung up on the hunky but distant star Lance Newmark that things get a little screwy.
But that’s not the main problem it’s rather that this is a 150 pg pb , the characters are never given time to develop and when Rand does starts describing them especially those connected with the movie, the reader is going hoo-boy. First of all I’d like to see one book in which a stage director / casting director – any kind of theatrical organizer didn’t dress as though tackiness were the equivalent of wackiness-[ she was wearing tight purple pants made out of shiny Spandex , and a pink t shirt. Her hair was the burgundy red of cranberries, too bright to be real and her makeup collection could’ve put Susie’s to shame.] There’s also the British director who shows up for the riding scene in costume himself – jodpurs , black riding boots and Lance’s hulking, bookend body guards dubbed King and Kong.
Worst is the movie itself – Bound for Nashville – a musical about a small town boy ( Lance ) who plays in a rinkydink band and is in love with a local waitress ( Charmayne.) but trades them all for Nashville because he’s destined to hit the big time. Of course this is the kind of corn that was playing on the big screen at the time but why use it for a Sweet Dreams novel? Why would a writer ever pick so flimsy a story posing as unreality to hold up in contrast to Marcy’s equally flimsy story as reality? Of course one could say but hey in the movie Billy/Lance goes off to find his destined stardom – while Marcy though fantasizes through two thirds of the book of running off to Hollywood doesn’t. Of course she doesn’t, but not because this is reality – it’s because this is a message book.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against messages in books ( I always felt the lack of punishing Jessica Wakefield always sent out the wrong message ) , but when the message becomes not just transparent but the book – then it becomes less about characters and mere didacticism. While Marcy is eager and starry eye’d she must learn that : films aren’t made in sequence – the end is the first thing they shoot , that the stars aren’t on hand for everything ( she honestly thought Lance would be at the extras casting call ) , that actors are not always multi-talented ( and there’s no such thing as movie magic – in the 80’s? Pul-lease ) – she feels that Lance is gypping her ( a fan ) because he won’t be doing his own singing in the movie , she must even learn all stars fade – as an old movie star prowls the set to have his photo taken with Lance for free publicity. But every once in a while Rand catapults Marcy up into the clouds again with a teaser – Lance smiles at her , mainly her , and she’s off and running – maybe he’ll tell her that she’s sophisticated , and belongs in Hollywood. When he asks the director to allow him to dance with Marcy instead of another girl in a small scene Marcy is conjuring pictures of him on the Tonight Show telling everyone how he met Marcy his ‘soon-to-be-wife.’ As Marcy continues on with this fantasy assuring her readers that she’s not some silly kid , she tells us Susie is going through something similar with one of the movie-band people and because she takes up what ever her boyfriend is into – has started writing country-western music. Marcy says it had gotten quite embarrassing but has the gall to admit she didn’t want to end up like Susie in a dream world that everyone else thought a joke!
Although she dismisses Jimmy as one who could never be a soul mate she won’t let him go. Because this is happening half way through pg 75 it just goes to reassure the reader that their instinct was dead on – Message book. Lance is just a passing phase. She’ll have good-ole Jimmy to fall back on. And though she admits she’ll have to face her boring existence in Wayne Junction without Lance, because the filming is almost done Rand throws another dreary bone to chew on. After shooting a swimming hole scene Marcy hangs around to take a dip and finds herself * SHOCK * floating alongside her hunk Lance who also decided to take a dip. By now the reader merely thinks Lance is just a nice but boring joe – he has told Marcy she has talent , calls her a southern Belle , and when she blurts out her plans to quit school and hit Hollywood he’s smart enough to attempt to squash that idea. Oh, but he was discovered washing cars ( she’s got all the dirt on him ) Chagrin he admits that’s a just a publicity story – and we also get the hint that he’s holding something back. ( Can you guess , I did – I remember all those Big Bopper magazines! The info they gave and the info they fudged. )
It’s over Marcy’s head which is a hard thing to accomplish with her head so high up in the clouds. She decides to visit the little people in her life, like Jimmy who annoyed that she’s blowing off a barbeque tells her that she’s become a laughing stock – the whole town is talking about her acting like a big star when all she is , is a lowly extra, like everyone else. Though his aim is good, he can’t shoot Marcy down from the clouds not ,just yet. Admitting she doesn’t have it all worked out she sits around in a hammock with a glass of limeade under a magnolia tree ( how can she leave this pretty setting? ) and plots to runaway. Her friends give her the cold shoulder making her more determined , she counts out her money an arrives to shoot the last scene – a riding scene. Now in how-to-write books they’re always saying things like don’t mention things if you’re not going to use them – I could go a step further – don’t mention things as if they bore more importance to a scene then they do. Marcy makes a big deal early on about fudging on her riding experience. I was imagining a scene in which she’d either make a fool of herself , or spoil the shot or have to be rescued by Lance or a hunky stunt man ( this was back when I was imagining a stunt guy would play the good guy in contrast to Lance’s Lothario. ) No such go. She does fine on the horse spoiling the former set up. I hate false suspense. Marcy manages to wrangle a dinner date out of Lance who takes her to the poshest restaurant in town – setting the stage for the final message.
Now the message could be a number of things – don’t begrudge your roots , nobody gets anything easy , don’t step on your friends to make it to the top – or how about don’t count your chickens before their hatched. Marcy learns over the course of the dinner just how wrong she was about everything – as she hints and hints under the guise of showing interest in his home in Malibu ( does he have room for a guest? ) that he’s not 19 and single like she thought. He’s 23 and… married… with a baby. Though she wants to yell at him for wasting her time , leading her on and making her think he was single – she makes the smartest statement of the book following her anger – [I didn’t do any of that of course. I wasn’t a total moron – even if I’d done a pretty good job acting like one all summer. ] She wises up , apologizes to Jimmy, who forgives her ( he’s a good sport ) – There is a sunny kiss n hug in which Marcy admits she’s happy to be the typecast small town girl that Lance pegged her as during the dance scene. A role she was now happy to play….until the sequel rolls into town. Kidding.
FIX ITS – My idea on how to fix this book
* The main error in this book is it’s relentless pursuit of the cliche – from the real world of Marcy to the phony world of Bound for Nashville. I’m not suggesting to abandon all cliches but rather invest in something more clever to clean up the drudgery. How about something also 80’s, but not quite so easy – a fantasy/sci fi involving monsters, puppets or robots an invasion of some kind that would’ve required scream-queens? Imagine Marcy practicing her scream till she was hoarse? Funny! Also you could have her wondering whether or not she is sacrificing the dignity of her ‘craft’ for the sake of fifteen minutes of fame ( never even contemplated in the Just like the Movies. ) Sci fi leaves one open for oodles of opportunities –
* Being squeezed into hot goofy costumes ( a slobbery rubber alien ) – she could be killed by her hunk! ( not quite the way I’d imagined dying in the hero’s arms with him cheering on my demise – Marcy ) Or she could chase her friends as extras, grunting and groaning as all otherworldly slobberly aliens do.
* Faking a death from an imagined laser death ray. Zaaap!
* Being painted as a zombie and making your way home still in costume.
* Being the one extra, in a sea of mutants, who has forgotten to take off her Swatch for this futuristic epic. Oops.
* Watching your t.v. hunk shout lines that would make you cringe – Stop you bucket of bolts or I’ll bleeping blast your circuits to kingdom come.
( of course everything I’ve mentioned is cliche – but Marcy is an extra – most of the time she’s seen sitting , standing or riding – each time is to accentuate her boredom. We get it , we get it cause we’re also quite bored- But as an extra in a sci-fi film , we would understand her movie excitement and the writer would have to be more clever in deciding why running off to Hollywood isn’t the best decision !)
I’m going to have to review Suzanne Rand’s On her Own just to give her a good review. So far , I’ve been rather harsh on her Sweet Dreams books and On Her Own is one of my faves. This one is probably worth **½
I had my own Hollywood-comes-to-my-hometown experience when I was 12. They were making The Experts in Niagara in the Lake – a bomb of a movie, but it featured John Travolta and Kelly Preston so I was pretty keyed up. I was a fan of Grease, my fave was actually the sequel but I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. We went downtown where they were filming and I couldn’t see, so my father hoisted me up on his shoulders. I spotted Travolta! THERE HE IS! I screamed. Travolta stopped his monologue looking around in bewilderment – Cut cut the director said and realizing my mistake I started nudging my dad, hissing put me down! As the director, once more told the spectators to keep quiet, I managed to keep cool though all the while thinking JohnTravolaJohnTravolta , I seen JohnTravolta! But it got boring, how long were they going to do this scene? I got tired and headed for our car. ( If you know the town’s set up, there is a alley from the main street to this parking lot where the old library used to be ) I tell you this cause when they stopped filming John and the crew ran down the alley to their trailers in the parking lot so abruptly that the spectators followed in hot pursuit. I on the other hand , heading for the car saw them dashing and broke into a run – I could cut them off! Oh, I’m not that bold – I stopped running, realizing – what in the Hell am I going to do after I catch Travolta? Instead, I watched him dart past me into the trailer and stayed outside as the others began to circle around. He came out signed some autographs and said hello. I could only stare. Others had him autograph their shoes or newly purchased autograph books. I suppose I could’ve found something for him to autograph but at the moment even now , no regrets – it wasn’t important. Just seeing him had made my day.
No 80’s nostalgia for this one – I wanted a pic of Dorothy Lyman from Mama’s Family, because the book features off the shoulder tops – and Lyman was the queen of them! but I couldn’t find one. I also wanted a clip from a Lucille Ball movie The Fuller Brush Girl – I know it’s not 80’s but it’s hilarious! There is this scene where she dresses up as a stripper to get into a club – she wears a satin skirt and an off the shoulder top but her makeup is hysterical. She glues clippings from a brush for loooong eyelashes and her lipstick is so thick it keeps gluing her mouth shut and popping apart with a comical snapping sound. I couldn’t find that either. sigh. Oh well , enjoy anyway.