Cue soundtrack, Laura Taylor is having a rough day. The screenwriter’s huge movie deal dissolved before her eyes, her agent disappeared without a trace, her car broke down, the power company shut off her electricity and she’s flat broke. It’s the kind of bad day that only happens in the movies.
Like sitting through any feel-good Hollywood flick, Bloomfield Hills native Lynn Isenberg’s debut novel, My Life Uncovered, requires more than a little suspension of disbelief. The overarching tale — a coming-of-age story of a U of M gal with a Hollywood dream — is absent the kind of characters that we might know in real life. The protagonist, Laura, describes herself blandly as a “good Jewish girl.” The women she knows are “petite” and “sexy” with “perky” breasts and “luscious” lips. The guys in the story are “gorgeous,” “tall and handsome” or “supernice” (a particular favorite). From the start, it’s apparent that Isenberg is no modern master of literature and that My Life Uncovered could snuggle on the shelf in the grey area between romance reading, insider Hollywood memoir and light fiction. The great American novel it is not.
What it is, however, is a compelling, energetic story. Laura’s broken-down car leads her to a mechanic who magically leads her to the adult film industry, and — voilà — the situation begets Laura’s alter ego, a coyly bisexual porn writer named Bella Feega (Italian for “Pretty Pussy”). When Laura, screenwriter unknown, becomes Bella Feega, cult porn mastermind and sexual superhero, Isenberg’s story dramatically accelerates. Some suspension of disbelief is still required — Bella’s scripts have the power to revolutionize the adult film industry, featuring failing relationships and championing free speech and women’s rights, and they overwhelm Hollywood with their success, grossing millions of dollars.
When Laura revisits her puppy love for cinema, the frosted lens focuses on the theaters of suburban Detroit. “For me it was about sitting next to my father with a tub of popcorn and getting swept away,” she says. “… As the film’s credits rolled my father invariably announced his rating of the movie on a scale from 1 to 10. ‘I’d give it an 8,’ he’d say, and that would be that, the full summation of his critique in five words.”
The duality of Jewish schoolmarm by day, high-rolling porn diva by night takes some unlikely leaps (Laura claims to have never seen a dildo), but the earnestness and amiability of the first person narrative eventually overwhelms the story’s shortcomings. Isenberg’s heroine might not be eloquent when recounting her initiation into the porn industry, but her suburban chattiness gets the best of you. Her conversational dialogue is surprisingly clever and Isenberg’s humanistic look at porn actors, producers and filmmakers is often touching. As the pages whir by, the slightly unbelievable gestures of a huge cast of characters are forgivable, and the brisk pace of Laura’s babble is endearing.
The separation of synagogue and smut is made more difficult by Laura’s sister’s impending wedding. The local rabbi makes it clear that she should abandon her double life. With Bella’s quick success, Laura finds it harder to hide her split lifestyle from inquisitive family and gossipy Hollywood society.
The collision of two worlds provides the book’s most lively action. When Laura, her mom and her sis bump into a couple of Bella’s co-workers while shopping for lingerie, the situation reads with the comic tension of a lively sitcom scene. Laura’s frantic scramble makes for the book’s best bits and when the problem escalates, Isenberg hits her narrative stride.
Of course Bella’s fame proves too much for Laura to manage, and Isenberg’s resolution is solid and conclusive. All told, a remarkably entertaining, feel-good debut from this suburban Detroit author (who lives in the Los Angeles area). Even with its moments of turbulence, as Laura’s dad might say, I’d give it an 8.
And considering that Isenberg includes in her press kit kudos from Sandra Bernhard, Booklist Review and a host of successful Hollywood and TV insiders, she runs a posh California lakeside retreat for screenwriters and directors and US magazine chose the novel as “hot pick of the week,” it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw this author go places.
Author Lynn Isenberg will read from her novel on Friday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 500 S. Main, Royal Oak; and on Saturday, Jan. 31, at 1 p.m., Waldenbooks, 2800 W. Big Beaver, Space Y303, Troy; and Saturday at 7 p.m., with appetizers, at Barnes & Noble, 17111 Haggerty Road, Northville.
E-mail Nate Cavalieri at firstname.lastname@example.org.