Monday, May 4, 2015
Book Review: Oh! You Pretty Things
There’s a saying that Hollywood is like high school with money – meaning that all the cliques, weird love triangles and petty backstabbing are here, just being performed by people who drive hundred thousand dollar cars and have assistants who specialize in buying the right toilet paper. So what happens if you’re in Hollywood but don’t have any money? Well, then you’re the one buying the toilet paper. Yes, Los Angeles is home to movie stars, TV personalities and studio chiefs. But most people who live there have regular, ordinary lives like the rest of us. Only they are constantly reminded that they are not the one percent.
Shanna Mahin’s Oh! You Pretty Things is a tutorial on life for regular people in Hollywood. Basically, it sucks much more than being a regular person in, say, North Carolina, because you’re surrounded by people who work “in the industry,” or who are trying to break into the industry, or who look down on you because you’re not in the industry. Your worth in Hollywood is determined by one thing: Where you are on the industry ladder. If you’re not a celebrity, how close are you to one?
We meet Jess, Mahin’s heroine, the day she finds out she’s losing shifts at her barista job because, at 29, she’s too old and not pretty enough to be behind the counter during the coveted daytime hours. It’s just the latest of slights Jess has dealt with her whole life. A third generation Los Angelino, Jess was never pretty enough for her grasping wannabe actress mother Donna, nor for any of the casting agents Donna forced her to meet with, nor her ex-husband. These slights have left Jess too eager to please, and when she gets a job as the assistant to Hollywood B-lister Eva, she’s so happy to be appreciated, she lets Eva’s needs take over her life.
"Pretty" is like The Devil Wears Prada for the Hollywood set, only Jess is too besotted with Eva to realize the woman is evil. It’s an up close and personal look at the glamour of being a Hollywood assistant – cleaning up after those purse-sized dogs, who are never house-trained. Being on call to retrieve abandoned cars in the middle of the night, because your boss can never be bothered to get gas. Having a standing order at Starbucks for a very specific kind of latte. And ignoring the evidence that your boss is sleeping with your best friend’s boyfriend.
While Mahin has crafted a very specific tale on the peculiarities of living on the edge of Hollywood, it’s the universality of Jess’ relationships that really resonated with me. Jess is figuratively in high school, with a best friend who has suddenly ditched her to spend all her time with her new boyfriend. And she’s caught in a friend triangle between Eva and Scout, Jess’ friend who got her the assistant job to begin with. Eva pits them against each other in a war over who Eva likes better. Is there a woman alive who doesn’t clearly remember the pain the first time she saw her best friend eating lunch with another girl? Or having her cancel plans to hang out with her hot new boyfriend, while she sat home watching The Love Boat? It doesn’t matter whether these slights take place in Hollywood, California or Hollywood, Maryland – the pain is the same.
If you’re a fan of the Real Housewives of Hollywood, any of the Kardashian shows, or just like to have E TV on in the background, you’ll definitely appreciate Oh! You Pretty Things. But the next time the camera zooms in on Khloe walking down the street, keep an eye out for the woman barely in range, holding two phones. Her life off-screen is just as important as the one on TV.
Thanks to Penguin Random House for the book in exchange for an honest review.