by Avery Carman
Fame! Concert stardom, magazine cover appearances, guest shots on The Tonight Show, intimate chats with Princess Di, Bruce Springsteen. Michael Jackson, Cher! It all happens to Paul Brock, narrator of this labored comic novel.
Well, not all; the celebrity chats are imagined. But the rest is real, and Avery Corman (Kramer vs. Kramer and Oh, God!) explores with relish the hype upon which his hero’s sudden fame is built.
Brock is a television writer known to producers as a “quality guy” (he turns down sitcoms about teenagers and girl-stalked-by-killer movies), and he’s writing The Novel on the side. That book, Upward Mobility, is serious stuff, concerning “a New York couple who meet in the 1960s and, while dating, go through a period of social protest.” Recognizing the limited appeal of this subject, Mel Steiner, a childhood friend, now a promotion-minded music-biz tycoon, takes over.
Brock’s songwriting and singing talents are nothing special, but the savvy Mel packages him as “America’s Balladeer of the Middle Class,” arranges a Radio City Music’ Hall debut and transforms him into a major concert star. Soon, almost everything that can happen to famous people happens to Paul Brock, including being kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists (“Give up of lands from Israel!… You famous American Person. You in USA Today.”). The bemused novelist goes along with it all, rejecting only a proposal for “Brock. A man’s cologne for thinking men.” Upward Mobility, naturally, becomes a best-seller.
Does all this synthetic glory bring truly satisfying rewards? Will the quality guy surrender totally to the bitch goddess Success? The answers come, but they are as slick and unsurprising as the questions.
Corman doesn’t expect us to believe this story, any more than he expects us to believe Brock’s exchanges with the celebrities who phone or drop by. But there are far too many of these cameo fantasies, and they lack bite.
Lack of bite, in fact, is what’s wrong with The Big Hype. The pollution of our culture by hype is a sitting-duck target, and Corman lays on satire with a backhoe, rather than a palette knife. Dustin Hoffman and George Burns made hits of the film versions of Kramer vs. Kramer and Oh, God! If Hoffman and Burns will play Brock and Steiner, The Big Hype may make it as a film. As a novel, it has problems actors can’t solve. (Simon & Schuster, $19)