Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Byron Lane's A Star Is Bored in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, July 28.
Byron Lane’s fictional A Star Is Bored details the relationship between fabulous film star Kathi Kannon, daughter of Hollywood royalty, and her assistant, Charlie Besson (our protagonist). I pictured Carrie Fisher in every scene between Kathi and Charlie. But ultimately, that mental casting doesn't matter because the book, at its heart, is about Charlie. (I will admit that, the minute I finished the book, I headed to Google to see: was author Byron Lane really Carrie Fisher's assistant? And the answer is yes. It doesn't *truly* matter because the world he created, and the people within it, are real enough to stand on their own. But I also wanted to know.)
Charlie is depressed and adrift, anchorless after the death of his mother when he was 12 and his father's constant verbal abuse. Charlie's memory is haunted by attacks from his father's attempts to shame and scream Charlie into denying his homosexuality. Miserable in a job writing nightly news updates, Charlie jumps at the chance to interview with Kathi Kannon, who is looking for a new assistant.
From the moment Charlie enters through the gate of her mansion, he is swept into a world where he is running slightly behind, off kilter in the face of Kathi's bizarre requests, brilliant and playful and crass language (she calls him Cockring through the entire book), and expectation that HE should know what to do. I felt a sense of dread in those early moments of their relationship because it's so clear that Charlie has no idea what he should be doing and is ill prepared for the force that is Kathi's will. But Charlie soon resolves to be a good assistant, to figure out what he needs to do, to carve out the best way to take care of Kathi.
Ever-present through the novel is Charlie's awareness of Kathi's drug addiction and the disapproving, yet supportive enabling of Kathi's famous mother, Miss Gracie, who lives on the same estate. In Miss Gracie's assistant, Roger, Charlie sees a potential future, one in which he is inseparable from Kathi, both elevated and doomed by his willingness to sacrifice his autonomy to her glamour and charisma, her Shine, as she calls it.
The book is funny and sad and hopeful and beautiful. There are times that it's almost painful to read--there's some secondhand embarrassment, but there's also a sense of fear when we as readers can see Kathi's path, while Charlie is in denial. I enjoyed the entire book, but the last third, which is so, so tender, made A Star Is Bored a triumph for me.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.