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A Star Is Bored

Review

A Star Is Bored

No, A STAR IS BORED isn’t about Carrie Fisher. Yes, it’s about a young man who lands a job working for an actress and author named Kathi Kannon. Kathi, who rose to fame playing the white-robed heroine of a beloved sci-fi epic, is the daughter of a still-living star from Hollywood’s golden age. And yes, debut novelist Byron Lane did spend several years working as an assistant to the late Carrie Fisher, the wickedly funny writer, daughter of Debbie Reynolds and portrayer of Princess Leia. But as Lane insists, “this is a work of fiction.”

Nonetheless, the book is clearly inspired by the author’s adventures with Fisher, who --- like the fictional Kathi --- was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and struggled with drug addiction throughout her life. It’s both an affectionate tribute to a much-loved celebrity and an inside look at the not-always-glamorous lives of the rich and famous.

"It’s both an affectionate tribute to a much-loved celebrity and an inside look at the not-always-glamorous lives of the rich and famous."

Like many residents of Los Angeles, Charlie Besson moved to the city with the idea of becoming someone other than himself (in this case, the awkward, bullied gay boy he was in his small Louisiana hometown). But instead of achieving his dreams, he has spent the last seven years working the graveyard shift at a local television station. “I’m a TV news writer because I’m not good enough to be a TV news reporter,” he laments. His weird hours have killed off his social life, and drunken hookups substitute for romance. He’s seriously considering suicide when he lands an interview to be Kathi’s assistant. For Charlie, the possibility of working with Kathi offers a chance at salvation. That’s because for him, she’s not just a celebrity but a childhood icon in the form of her character from the film Nova Quest, Priestess Talara.

Unfortunately, Priestess Talara in real life is not quite like what one sees on-screen. She is, frankly, a mess --- erratic, scatterbrained, drug-addled and sometimes rude. But she also can be charming, funny and kind, and it’s these moments that suck Charlie --- nicknamed Cockring by his employer --- into Kathi’s orbit and keep him there, as he hopes for a little of her “shine” to rub off on him. He revels in his star-adjacent status, relying on anecdotes from his job to give his own dull life a bit of ersatz glamour.

Lane knows the weird, wild world of celebrity-assisting firsthand, and it shows. Working for Kathi comes with no instruction manual, but Charlie gradually learns what he needs to do to keep her life organized (sort of) --- whether it’s waking her up at 10am with a Coke Zero and the day’s pills or jetting off on an impromptu trip to see the Northern Lights. The business of being an assistant is incredibly intimate; in addition to being an employee, Charlie is also a confidante, friend and, he fears, an enabler of Kathi’s worst impulses.

Their relationship is made more complicated both by his initial hero worship and the way she becomes a kind of mother figure to him (at times, he even calls her stepmom). Kathi stands in for his own mother, who died suddenly when he was a child. His father was abusive, prone to verbal tirades mocking his perceived femininity. Their relationship is still rocky, so it’s no wonder that Charlie, who is desperate for connection, finds a kind of family with Kathi, her imperious mother and a handful of devoted employees who all live on the same Beverly Hills estate.

A STAR IS BORED is riotously funny at times. One memorable scene sees Kathi purchasing an expensive fur coat and then, much to the horror of a judgmental salesclerk, cutting it up to make a jacket for her dog. But there’s also a deep undercurrent of sadness. Charlie is at sea in his life when the book opens, and he latches onto Kathi like she’s a life preserver. However, Kathi needs saving of her own. Despite all of her success and advantages, she, like Charlie, is lonely and adrift. Still, the book ends on a hopeful note, with both Charlie and Kathi having found some form of happiness, however temporary it may be.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on July 31, 2020

A Star Is Bored
by Byron Lane

  • Publication Date: July 28, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Humor
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 1250266491
  • ISBN-13: 9781250266491