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the complete review - fiction
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A- : a very enjoyable film-novel
See our review for fuller assessment.
Most enjoyed it
From the Reviews:
- "(A)s I see it, Erickson’s novel is more Alephville than Alphaville. And yes, I realize that aleph and alpha signify the same thing. This is the guiding theme of Zeroville -- time and film history as a strange loop, a Möbius strip that turns from alpha to omega and back again, as we dream the movies that in turn dream us. (…) If you’re a film fan, run, don’t walk: Zeroville will be your novel of the year." - Andrew Hultkrans, Bookforum
- "Steve Erickson's Zeroville inhabits a sweet spot where fiction and film criticism merge" - Troy Patterson, Entertainment Weekly
- "This is not so much a novel about movies as a novel of movies. You would be lost if you did not know who Michael Cimino is, or why it might be witty to refer to Brian De Palma as "Hitch". At its heart is a deep faith in the holy logic of cinema. (…) Zeroville has the resonant strangeness of a great old movie, but it doesn’t seem particularly interested in the possibilities of literary narrative. What might work as a scene in a film is often flat on the page, weighed down by symbolic suggestion. (…) Zeroville suffers from the pointlessness of surrealism, whereby things just happen." - Daniel Swift, Financial Times
- "In Zeroville, Erickson breathes life into structure. (...) Parts are uncomfortable; Vikar is prone to unprovoked violence. Parts are strange, like the surreal ending, designed, I think, to emphasize an idea, rather than a plot. What makes this book exceptional is that Erickson is able to push an unconventional story with new ways to look at the world, while also delivering one that is satisfying and complete. Zeroville is not always easy, but it is brilliant and accessible - like getting slammed over the head with a food tray, once you regain your senses, you'll thank the attacker for the wake-up." - Claire Cameron, Globe & Mail
- "Although Zeroville is at times a comic novel (...), it is not at heart a satirical or parodic one. Nor is it a documentary novel of the film brats ascending amid the rubble of the studio system in the 1970s. Erickson, who is also film critic for Los Angeles magazine, manages to wipe clean the presumptions typically guiding the Hollywood Novel, which suggest either that Hollywood is irredeemably corrupt or that moviemaking is a tainted beauty requiring the ministrations of a pure artistic vision to recover its virtue. He embeds in his story a deeply thoughtful look at the art of filmmaking, not the pathology of the film industry. (...) At root, Zeroville is a novel about the nitty-gritty mysteries of the artistic process and about the evolution of an enthusiast into an artist." - Christopher Sorrentino, The Los Angeles Times
- "A Hollywood thriller with a metaphysical plot, the book's suspense hinges not on any domestic act of sex or violence, but on an otherworldly -- or at least European -- sense of mythical revelation. (…) The abstruse mysticism of this novel paradoxically makes it accessible, though the revelations are too peculiar to Vikar to involve the reader in anything like the titillations of The Da Vinci Code. But inside the thriller of Zeroville is a love letter to a culture." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun
- "Beyond establishing these (somewhat) grounding details, it’s simply impossible to explain the intent and direction of this funny, disturbing, daring and demanding novel -- Erickson’s best. The set pieces in Zeroville are particularly breathtaking. (…) Terse, fanciful, dreamlike and sometimes nightmarish, this remarkable novel will test you and tease you and leave you desperate to line up at Film Forum (or hunt down Erickson’s top 150 on DVD) so you can submit yourself to the celluloid bonds that hold Vikar and his creator such willing captives." - Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review
- "Film geeks will have fun playing Spot the Cinematic Reference. One of the book's entertaining conceits is the way it eschews the Hollywood practice of name-dropping and presents characteristics without explicit identification. (…) Erickson has a great ear for dialogue" - Edward Champion, The Philadelphia Inquirer
- "Zeroville is a loose retelling of A Place in the Sun, which was adapted from the Theodore Dreiser novel An American Tragedy. All three of those stories are very much cut from the story of Christ and his sacrifice. Erickson playfully addresses his story's lineage (…..) Erickson does achieve a novel that conjures the mythic possibility of film, and all art: ageless creations on the scale of mountains, or eternity. The pressing concerns of any given moment fall away to form a greater story -- one that's all around us, as well as inside of us -- that we are all too often oblivious of." - Buzz Poole, San Francisco Chronicle
- "Though this novel contains a catalogue of film lore it is Erickson's literary technique that impresses. His manipulation of narrative form is reason alone to read and admire his fiction, but Zeroville also has enough compelling intrigue to keep a reader pleased and puzzled, as dreams, imagination and film intersect with history and what passes for reality in Hollywood." - Stephen Burn, Times Literary Supplement
- "Zeroville is funny, sad and darkly beautiful, built around short chapters that allow the author to capture the essential moment and move effortlessly through time. (…) That single-minded devotion, the way it creates a counterpoint in Vikar's interactions with other characters, is often hilarious. I can't recall having laughed out loud so much reading a novel." - Jeff VanderMeer, The Washington Post
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
Zeroville is a Hollywood-chronicle, the changing film industry, from 1969 through the 1980s, a shifting background behind the timeless absolutes of film.
Even before the protagonist arrives in Hollywood he gets a tattoo -- of a scene between Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift from A Place in the Sun; the tattoo is on his shaved head, a still imprinted permanently -- and always for everyone to see -- on his skull, like a single defining thought.
Zeroville centres on Ike 'Vikar' Jerome.
He comes from a religious family and studied architecture at divinity school.
Then he discovered the movies and immediately became obsessed, and abandoned his past as best he could (not entirely, as it turns out).
One character describes him as cinéautistic, and that's exactly how he wanders through the novel.
He's oblivious to a great deal, not very good at social interaction, would prefer to do without a telephone, and a bit slow on the uptake, generally taking things very literally.
He doesn't follow the goings-on in the world around him much -- and so, for example, he can turn on the news and put his distinctive spin on anything: "The granddaughter of Charles Foster Kane has been sent to jail for being kidnapped, which Vikar didn't realize was a crime."
All he's interested in (and capable of) is doing his own thing -- and that basically means single-mindedly learning everything he can about movies.
He has a violent temper that sometimes erupts, but he's also extremely sensitive.
Arriving in town at the same time as the Manson-murders, he is briefly a suspect, but breaks down completely when confronted with pictures of the crimes -- but he also brutally assaults several people over the years (though generally for pretty good reasons).
He gets jobs on movie lots, befriends a few important people, and eventually gets hired to salvage a film-project that's going down the tubes fast.
It turns out he has a ... unique eye, and he edits together the film in such a creative way that he gets a special prize at Cannes for his work, and an Oscar nomination.
This eventually leads to a film deal to adapt Huysmans' Là-Bas (as 'God's Worst Nightmare').
But film deals are a dime (or a few million ...) a dozen in this town, and this one fares about as well as most.
Among the figures that keep popping up in his life are Soledad and her young (and then teenage) daughter, Zazi -- rare instances, also, of advancing time and change being forced on Vikar, who otherwise seems to have little sense of any sort of forward motion (even as he restlessly haunts the city, taking endless bus trips and long walks).
Something of a protector for them, he is also, for the most part, incapable of truly helping them, his cinéautistic self capable of the occasional grand gesture, but completely unsure of the everyday small ones
Vikar becomes a man with a mission: he collects films, and thinks he's found a key to all of them -- leading him far afield, too, to see if he's right.
Unfortunately, it would seem, he is.
Zeroville advances in very short chapters, like numbered steps, 1 through 227, at which point the novel reverses itself and counts down in similar style -- past one, all the way to zero.
It's a play on cinematic fantasy -- and cinematic reality, as it depends heavily, too, on Hollywood trivia, from the past and (that) present.
Erickson handles this expertly, for the most part: it's an insider story, but presented in a way that lets the reader feel largely in the know too -- and laugh along knowingly.
The scenes with the Hollywood players -- the actors, producers, agents, and editors -- are often hilarious.
At first sight it would seem that Zeroville would make a great film, too, -- until you realize that the qualities are in the details and the cuts and especially the reptition, adding up to far too much to squeeze into your average Hollywood flick.
It reads lightly and quickly, but Zeroville is epic.
The short chapters and the character of Vikar -- at such an odd remove from almost everything around him -- make for a riveting read.
Among Vikar's few releases is going to punk clubs, where he can (and really does) let it all go (and suggesting -- as is also hinted at elsewhere -- that he has quite a bit bottled up deep down inside himself).
Erickson fares worst the further away from Hollywood he takes Vikar, not sure of how to handle the character when he's out of his element.
New York he can still manage, but a trip to Paris, and then on to Oslo (along with the unlikely discovery no one seems to have made before him) feels pretty strained.
But when he lets Vikar rampage through Hollywood, even when Vikar is entirely unsure of himself, the book is on very solid ground.
Vikar runs into perhaps two too many unlikely film-connoisseurs (and one of those at least once too often), and some of what happens strains credulity even where one wants to believe it, so
Zeroville makes a better first impression than it does on closer reflection -- but, oh, what a first impression.
This is one very good read, one of those books that carries you right along, keeping you guessing, laughing, and engaged.
And even though it sounds like a film-buff story, it should appeal to anyone who can understand obsession.
There have been few novels that even come close to mixing film and literature this well -- and, at one go, Erickson comes close to transcending both.
Ultimately not quite as profound as it seems to mean to be, Zeroville is nevertheless a wild and well-worthwhile ride, and thoroughly entertaining.
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Other books by Steve Erickson under review:
Other books of interest under review:
- See Index of Contemporary American fiction at the complete review
- See Index of Film and TV-related books
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About the Author:
American author Steve Erickson was born in 1950.
He has written several fairly highly acclaimed novels.
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© 2007-2010 the complete review
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