Tinseltown by Barry Brennessel

Rating: 7/10 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 
Title: Tinseltown
Author: Barry Brennessel
Genre: Humour/romance
URL: MLR Press
Price: US $6.99
Other Information/warnings:
Summary [from the publisher]:

Film student Micah Malone learns the hard way that when life sucks, you can’t just yell “Cut! Let’s do another take!”

His grades are a box-office bomb. His friends create more drama than a soap opera. And his love life needs a laughtrack. While there’s no script to dictate what happens next, can Micah find the direction he needs? Life, after all, is no film school project. But it is great source material. The only source material.

Let the cameras roll. Micah’s quirky story has begun filming.

My review:

This is a quirky little novel told in an engaging and unusual manner, more like a scrapbook for a film project than a linear narrative. It works very well for the story and the principal narrator, Micah. Micah isĀ  an insecure gay film student whose world revolves around his friends and his intermittent and hitherto largely unsatisfying sexual encounters. A series of events jolts him out of his set course, and shakes up the small group of constant (if constantly bickering) companions.

On the surface level, this is an enjoyable book. If you just want a fairly light, unchallenging and often amusing read from a writer with a good deal of style and polish, then this is for you and you should stop reading this review right now because I’m a sour old bag and am likely to ruin it for you.

Right – you’ve been warned. Here be spoilers.

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The problem with Micah’s story is Micah. He’s, to put it bluntly, a twit. And not just a twit, a selfish, rather cruel and entirely self-absorbed twit. He treats one former lover with unbelievable callousness, and breaks up with another over a trival misunderstanding which likely had devastating consequences for that lover, but which ceases to trouble Micah as soon as he finds out about it. He reacts to the discovery of one friend’s serious depression mostly by wondering how it will affect his friendship. He reacts to the serious disabling injury of a potential lover by walking out on the man in disgust. He’s the kind of shallow, vacuous twink that gives shallow vacuous twinks a bad name.

His friends aren’t much better – despite his dependence on them, I couldn’t discern the charm of Trish (as self-centered as Micah), or the Pauls. Stan is the kind of nerd who makes you want to slap them, although his attraction for Micah is at least well-described and shown vividly. Ironically, I would have enjoyed this story much more if the focus had been more on Stan, and especially on Jasper, the story’s token villain, and the only person who actually had a reason to be a dick. Poor Jasper.

Conflicts are dealt with far too easily. Micah finds new lovers with surprising ease, given his history and personality. Trish’s depression is cured by love (it doesn’t work like that.) A court trial is settled before it starts. Even the lover with the serious disability is on prosthetics far more quickly and easily than one might expect, and the realities of how he copes and how it affects its life is barely and badly described.

So on a deeper level, this is a story about a group of people not worth my time, and not worthy of the obvious skill lavished on them by the author, who has a real flair for words (despite some horrible line errors – eg “you’re” for ‘your’, “peaked” for “piqued”). If you don’t think too hard about your reading, you’ll love this, but I grew incredibly impatient with Micah about half way through and couldn’t regain any engagement with him. Hence the rating – the novel deserves more for writing craft, but less for enjoyment. As always, your mileage will definitely vary, and it is, at the very least, a novel out of the ordinary in this genre.

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