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Book Reviews: Trashed 

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Obsidian, September 2007, $21.95

The right pair of shoes can change your life forever.

So begins Woodstock resident Alison Gaylin’s delightful romp through the sordid and deliciously sleazy world of the Hollywood tabloid media machine and the seriously neurotic, occasionally psychotic stars who feed it. Gaylin knows this world intimately, having spent 10 years writing celebrity gossip for a slick national weekly that covers Hollywood. The inside stuff is terrific, and terrifically funny.

Simone Glass—holding a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University and a scrupulous sense of the reporter’s duty to deliver the truth—heads west to the promise of a job at a prestigious weekly newspaper in Los Angeles. She arrives for her first day of work only to find that during her drive across the country, the paper has folded.

Desperate to hide her bad luck from her parents and her older sister—a hot-stuff cable news anchor—Simone assumes a fall-back position at the Asteroid, a tabloid which the editor of no less than the National Enquirer has dubbed “the lowest form of sleaze.”

Her first assignment, from steely eyed, Red Bull-chugging, British expat editor Nigel Bloom, is to dress in head-to-toe black and don rubber gloves to rummage through the trash of Emerald Deegan, a TV megastar whose name, in certain celebrity gossip-driven circles, has been effervescing to the surface like bubbles in a crystal bowl of champagne punch.

In Nigel’s office, sifting through Emerald’s detritus—after being encouraged to think of the activity as investigative reporting—Simone discovers a shoe. But it’s not just another worn-out Nike; this is a silver, open-toed Jimmy Choo. And it’s bloodstained. Simone suspects it’s the one that recent suicide Nia Lawson wasn’t wearing at the time of her death, when she apparently pulled a Marilyn Monroe by swallowing Nembutal (wearing only one Choo) and then took it one step further and slit her own throat.

Nigel isn’t concerned with the shoe, or with Lawson. Nia was a has-been; Nigel wants Emerald Deegan on next week’s cover. He’s looking for “cocaine paraphernalia, empty bottles of diet pills, Ritalin and/or horse tranquilizer”—something he can use to blackmail Emerald into agreeing to an exclusive interview.
He partners Simone with Asteroid veteran Kathy Kinney, explaining that what they will do on the set of Emerald’s hit TV show is not reporting, it’s infiltrating. Kathy is a pro, having “infiltrated close to one hundred funerals, three dozen A-list charity benefits, fifty-some-odd weddings, and Fred Savage’s bar mitzvah. She’d clocked more time in Cedars-Sinai’s waiting room than she cared to think about, owned several sets of surgical scrubs, and swore to Simone on a stack of Bibles that she’d assisted in the birth of Julia Roberts’s twins.”

In the hour or so before their cover is blown and they’re kicked off the set by security, Simone and Kathy manage to get invited into Emerald’s trailer and actually talk to the actress. What they learn unsettles Simone.
Not exactly comfortable with her job duties even before she realizes that Emerald is actually kind of, well, nice, Simone has to dig deep to come up with rationalizations for her actions. She manages well and the resulting interior monologues, delivered in brief conversational clips full of self-deprecating humor, are often as touching as they are funny.

Soon enough, Emerald is discovered dead, another apparent suicide; her suspicious demise compels Simone to try to uncover the truth. Pitted against a savage killer and dealing with a hysterically demanding editor and the underhanded antics of a handsome, capable writer for a competing tabloid, Simone pulls off a series of infiltrations that range from laugh-out-loud funny to life-threatening and put her hot on the trail of a savage killer who just may have her name on his to-do list.

Trashed is funny, suspenseful, and oddly touching. It is both a thriller and a send-up of the genre, a giddy frolic through La-La Land with a cast of characters that leave the reader smiling at human folly, and guessing at whodunit until the very end.

Alison Gaylin will appear at Barnes & Noble in Kingston on 9/14 at 7pm and the Golden Notebook in Woodstock on 9/29 at 5pm.

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