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My lucky star, p.1
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       My Lucky Star, p.1

           Joe Keenan
 
My Lucky Star


  Copyright © 2006 by Joe Keenan

  Reading group guide © 2006 by Joe Keenan and Little, Brown and Company (Inc.)

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a data base or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company

  Hachette Book Group

  237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

  Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com

  Originally published in hardcover by Little, Brown and Company, January 2006 First eBook Edition: November 2006

  The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  ISBN: 978-0-316-01335-2

  The Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  Contents

  Copyright Page

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Aside: Who’s Who in the Cast

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-one

  Twenty-two

  Twenty-three

  Twenty-four

  Twenty-five

  Epilogue

  Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Reading Group Guide

  A conversation with Joe Keenan

  Questions and topics for discussion

  Applause for Joe Keenan’s

  My Lucky Star

  “Joe Keenan fills My Lucky Star with the kind of zany twists he perfected in Frasier .”

  — Raven Snook, Time Out New York

  “Keenan’s comedy is of a high order . . . sophisticated, deliciously camp entertainment.”

  —Kate Saunders, The Times

  “Part high satire, part Will & Grace, and part clue-sniffing Nick, Nora, and Nick.”

  — Emily Gordon, Newsday

  “When you think page-turner, you probably think of a crime novel or a thriller. Or maybe a juicy tell-all biography. Now take the suspense and gossip and stir in a good splash of laughs. Voilà! You have a novel by Joe Keenan. . . . The main attraction is Keenan’s seemingly bottomless inkwell of bons mots and witty zingers. . . . Bring on the popcorn!”

  —John Terauds, Toronto Star

  “Keenan’s command of the written word is as deft as the words he puts in other people’s mouths on TV. . . . My Lucky Star is a venomously funny autopsy of the hypocrisy and venality of Hollywood . . . the funniest novel of the year.”

  — Ian O’Doherty, Irish Independent

  “Keenan clearly has been schooled in the Academy of Plot. . . . The novel is fueled by twists and turns, contrivances and coincidences. There’s even a car chase.”

  —Debra Weinstein, Washington Post

  “The Hollywood farce, with its made-up celebrities who are never quite as ridiculous as the real thing, is tricky to pull off. But as a former head writer on Frasier, Keenan has the advantage of insider knowledge for this hilarious tale. . . . The manic twists and jibes at modern celebrity are a delight.”

  —Andrea Mullaney, Scotland on Sunday

  “There must be few if any novelists who can scatter showbiz-skewering jokes more lavishly over every page and paragraph, or who are more adroit at plotting, piling twist upon twist. . . . Keenan makes a thing of beauty of what could have been tired camp.”

  — Gavin Borchert, Seattle Weekly

  “Keenan deftly guides us through the S-curves of Hollywood fortune with the aplomb of someone who knows that even the sturdiest-looking facade is propped up with sticks.”

  — Thane Tierney, Bookpage

  “What a succulent treat: this is a laugh-out-loud literary masterpiece.”

  — Richard Labonte, Between the Lines

  “The urbane wit and high comedy of Frasier run like quicksilver through the veins of My Lucky Star. . . a delightful, feel-good, beautifully crafted romp.”

  — David Phelan, Independent on Sunday

  “In Keenan’s Hollywood, blackmail, nepotism, and chutzpah are rewarded at least as regularly as tight buns and taut scripts. On this sort of playing field, the graceful management of coincidence — otherwise known as timing—is everything. Keenan understands that well.”

  —Ariel Swartley, Los Angeles Magazine

  “Fantastic. . . . Keenan is unashamedly burlesque in his writing, which is thick with humor and a joy to read.”

  — Rob Dawson, Gay Times

  “Peppered with witty one-liners. . . . Keenan’s twinkly prose keeps you firmly tethered to his Lucky Star. ”

  —Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News

  “A delight . . . relentlessly humorous. . . . Although Keenan’s sidesplitting writing is often compared to P. G. Wodehouse’s . . . the wit is incredibly elegant and owes more than a little to Oscar Wilde and Ronald Firbank, with more subtle dashes of the lyric agility of Noel Coward and Cole Porter.”

  — Frederik Liljeblad, Pages

  “An uproarious satire on Hollywood life. My Lucky Star is a gift from the gods.”

  — Kelly Apter, The List

  “ My Lucky Star is madcap, charming, and hilarious. . . . Keenan’s in fine form here with both farce and wit.”

  — Marilyn Dahl, Shelf Awareness

  “Witty, twisted, dry as a martini, and sporting more daringly stylish wrinkles than a Hollywood bad boy’s tuxedo after a long night in questionable company, My Lucky Star lampoons the very excess in which it gleefully partakes, jumping from the lofty to the low and back again with easy abandon.”

  —Kilian Melloy, AfterElton.com

  “Joe Keenan’s novel has taken him two decades to complete, but it has been worth the wait. It’s a feisty, entertaining tale.”

  — Metro London

  “The glamorous Hollywood novel gets a sharp send-up as a smart drawing-room comedy crossed liberally with farce. . . . The witty banter, zany plot twists, and colorful, likable characters (even the dastardly villains) prove a delight for fans of brainy comedy. If the ghost of Noel Coward isn’t pleased, Frasier’s is.”

  — Booklist

  “A hilarious cast of writers, actors, agents, and hacks collide in vicious, psychotic, backstabbing, and back-scuttling mayhem . . . fart-out-loud funny.”

  — Lads Mag

  Also by Joe Keenan

  Blue Heaven

  Putting on the Ritz

  For Chris and David Lloyd

  One

  IT IS NEVER A HAPPY MOMENT in the life of a struggling artist when some fresh assault on his fragile dignity compels him finally and painfully to concede that Failure has lost its charm. He has up until this point soldiered bravely along, managing to persuade himself that there’s something not merely noble but downright jolly about Struggle, about demeaning temp jobs, day-old baked goods, and pitchers of beer nursed like dying pets into the night. He would, of course, grant that la vie Bohème with its myriad deprivations and anxieties was not an unalloyed delight. But whenever its indignities rankled unduly he could console himself with his certainty that Bohemia was not, after all, his permanent address. Oh, no. His present charmingly scruffy existence was a mere preamble to his real life, a larval stage from which he would soon gloriously emerge into the su
nshine of success. Its small embarrassments were, if anything, to be prized, not only for their lessons in humility but for the many droll, self-deprecatory anecdotes they would later provide, stories he’d polish and trot out for parties, interviews, and—why be pessimistic?—talk shows.

  Then one day he is faced with some final affront, minor perhaps, but so symbolically freighted as to land on him with the force of an inadequately cabled Steinway. He reels, stunned, and dark speculations, long and successfully repressed, rampage through his mind. For the first time he allows himself to wonder if his life twenty years hence will be any different than his present existence. “Of course it will be different,” coos the voice in his head. “You’ll be old.”

  From this icy thought a short road leads to panic, and from panic to despair, self-pity, desperation, and, finally, Los Angeles.

  MY OWN RUDE EPIPHANY came a year ago last fall shortly after the closing of Three to Tango, a larky little comedy I’d written with my good friend and collaborator Claire Simmons. The play had been enthusiastically received in a series of readings, stirring a cautious hope in Claire’s heart and extravagant optimism in my own. The production, alas, was doomed from the start, owing chiefly to our producer’s decision to present the show in a small basement playhouse that was as damp as Atlantis and harder to find. We tried to persuade him that the show might fare better in a space that felt more like a theater and less like a hideout, but he felt confident that people would find us. People did not. We opened in mid-September and by month’s end the play had closed and I was back to my day job, pounding the pavement as an outdoor messenger for the Jackrabbit Courier Service.

  You might suppose this experience would have left me a broken and bitter man, but on the day in question my mood was actually pretty chipper. The autumn weather was brisk and lovely. The job, though lacking a certain prestige, allowed me to write much of the day, and I’d just gotten an idea for a new comedy. Best of all, my chum Gilbert, whose consoling presence I’d sorely missed during the deathwatch for my play, was due to return soon from Los Angeles. I’d been slightly miffed at his desertion but couldn’t really blame him. His mother, Maddie, had recently snagged herself a rich Hollywood mogul, and Gilbert—who if mooching were an Olympic sport would have his picture on Wheaties boxes—could not resist flying west to bond with the lovebirds poolside. I looked forward to hearing of his romantic exploits, which, if the hints in his e-mails were any indication, would give new life to the phrase “Westward Ho.” So buoyant in fact was my mood that I was even coping stoically with the news that a musical penned by the loathsome Marlowe Heppenstall, my nemesis since high school, had opened to unfathomably kind reviews and was looking like a major hit.

  By late afternoon the benevolent sunshine had given way to darker skies and a sudden cloudburst forced me to sprint the six blocks to my final destination, a Park Avenue law office. I raced into the building, ascended to the seventeenth floor, and entered a spacious foyer, every mahogany-paneled inch of which bespoke the age and prosperity of the firm. The prim, bespectacled woman at the desk glanced up and fixed me with that look of quizzical disdain legal receptionists have long reserved for dampened members of the messenger class.

  I removed from my satchel an envelope addressed to a Mr. Charles O’Donnell and marked PERSONAL. I presented this to the human pince-nez, who gazed right past me and said, “Mr. O’Donnell, this just came for you.”

  I turned. Walking toward us was an extremely handsome blond fellow about my age, dressed in a flawlessly tailored charcoal pin-striped suit. He had wonderfully broad shoulders though I couldn’t say if this was the result of weight training or if it was workout enough just lifting the massive Rolex and chunky gold cuff links that sparkled on his tanned wrists.

  Reminding myself, as I need to at such moments, that this was not a movie and the fellow could see me, I tried not to stare too blatantly as I handed him the envelope. He took it, barely glancing at me, then did a little double take as though he recognized me but wasn’t sure where from. He suddenly looked familiar to me as well. I wondered if we’d shared some fleeting romantic liaison but immediately dismissed this notion as it hinged on the ludicrous premise that I could have slept with such a man then forgotten him. I knew that if we’d dallied even once ten years ago, I’d still be mooning over him and writing maudlin sonnets starting “If love, thou wouldst but phone me once again.”

  His puzzled look morphed suddenly into a smile of delighted surprise.

  “Phil?” he said. “Phil Cavanaugh?”

  Light dawned.

  “Oh my God! Chuck O’Donnell! How the hell are you?”

  “I don’t believe this. It’s so great to see you!”

  We’d been friends back in high school, though only briefly as we’d moved in very different circles. Chuck had been the brightest member of the football-playing, cheerleader-groping set, while I had been a leading light of the sarcastic, underwear-ad-ogling theater crowd. He’d crossed lines once, gamely agreeing to play the braggart warrior Miles Gloriosus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum when our own group failed to produce a single nonrisible candidate for the role.

  I scrutinized his face, which seemed different, improved in some way.

  “You’re looking at my nose, right?” he said with a laugh. “I broke it boxing a few times. They kept having to reset it.”

  “Ah,” I said, wondering what it must be like to live so charmed a life that facial injuries only made you handsomer.

  “Look at you.” I grinned. “Mr. Big Shot Lawyer.”

  “Not so big, trust me. How ’bout you? Still writing plays?”

  “Just did one.”

  “That’s great! How’d it go?”

  “Really well,” I said. “Big hit.”

  It was the sort of fib I might have gotten away with had we met at a cocktail party and I was wearing the secondhand yet stylish jacket Gilbert calls my Salvation Armani. The problem was we weren’t at a cocktail party. We were in the stately foyer of his white-shoe law firm and I was wearing faded jeans, waterlogged Nikes, and a gray polo shirt adorned with my company’s logo, a zealous, bucktoothed rabbit in a mauve tracksuit. In short, I was in no position to swank.

  Charlie, bless him, managed to say “Great” without a trace of irony, but the receptionist, who’d never liked me, didn’t even try to keep her eyebrows in neutral. Mortified, I averted my gaze, which landed on the foyer’s large gilt mirror.

  I spoke earlier of moments that carry a great symbolic weight. This was unquestionably such a moment. There we stood, Charlie looking straight out of a Barneys catalog and I in my soggy ensemble from the Grapes of Wrath Collection. So perfectly did we exemplify our divergent fortunes that we might have been allegorical figures from some medieval morality play, with Charlie starring as Diligence Rewarded and self in the cameo role of Dashed Hopes.

  “So,” said Charlie as the blood drained from my face, “been in New York long?”

  “Since school,” I mumbled, searching for a way to say that, while I was enjoying our chat, I should really get going as I’d be needing to burst into tears soon. The receptionist, more eager to rescue Charlie than me, reminded him of an impending meeting.

  “Gotta run. But hey, let me know next time you’ve got a show on.”

  “You bet.”

  “My wife loves the theater. In fact that’s what you just brought me—tickets for this new musical. Friend of mine couldn’t use ’em.”

  “Ah.”

  “Maybe you’ve heard of it?” he said, then smacked his forehead comically. “What am I saying? Of course you have. It’s by Marlowe — you know, Marlowe Heppenstall from school? Are you two still in touch?”

  WHEN SUCH MOMENTS BEFALL US, we have, of course, two options. We can say “Fiddle-dee-dee” and shrug it off or we can surrender entirely to self-lacerating despair. I chose the latter course and, after walking sixty blocks in the rain to my small, unkempt apartment, settled into a chair with a nice view
of the air shaft to contemplate my future.

  It did not look bright.

  I was twenty-nine. This meant I was still technically a young man, though no longer young young, thirty being, as everyone under it knows, the middle age of youth. True middle age was still reasonably distant, though not, as it had once been, unimaginably so.

  My career to date had consisted of a frustrating series of near misses. While I’d never had any trouble imagining the ultimate breakthrough, it was now equally easy to picture this dispiriting pattern repeating itself till I woke one day to find I’d become that most poignant figure the theater has to offer, the Struggling Old Playwright.

  I’d met my share of them, bloated pasty fellows, doggedly upbeat or surly and embittered, haunting the workshops and readings where their younger brethren gathered. I’d seen them in theater-district bars, cadging drinks while boasting of their latest effort, often a retooling of some earlier work culled from the trunk and reread with a parent’s myopic affection.

  “Amazing how well it holds up! Why it’s more timely now than when I wrote it. Can’t believe Playwrights passed on it back then. Just as well though since Streep was too young at the time to play Fiona and she’d be perfect now. Damn, left my wallet home.”

  There was one especially Falstaffian old gasbag whom Gilbert and I had often observed in our favorite watering hole. Not knowing his name, we’d christened him Milo. In my imagination, which had grown uncontrollably morbid, I pictured him twenty years from now, older, fatter, but still warming the same bar stool. I watched him turn toward the bar’s entrance, his blubbery lips parting in a smile of welcome. He patted the stool next to his with a nicotine-stained hand and bid the weary newcomer welcome.

  “Philip! We’ve been wondering where you were. Wouldn’t be a proper Friday without you. Sorry I missed your birthday bash at the Ground Round. Any word from MTC on the new one?...The philistines!... How awkwardly you’re holding your glass —the old carpal tunnel acting up again? Well then, here’s a bug I’ll just put in your ear—you tell Blue Cross they can stuff their job, then come join me behind the necktie counter at Saks! What fun we’ll have, discussing our plays and ogling the young ones! I tell you, Philip, the days just fly by!”

 
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