Novel about gay pop star is in sync with current events, but may not rock your world
“Rockstarlet: A Novel,” by Stewart Lewis. (Alyson Books, 2006) 368 pps., $14.95, paper.
Thirty-three-year-old gay musician Jackson Poole is poised to hit the Big Time. He’s just signed with Virgin Records, whose executives feel that Jackson has what it takes to take the pop music scene by storm. However, Jackson’s management team Aden and Derek, a dysfunctional long-term gay couple feel that songs from an openly gay man, no matter how catchy, won’t sell to teenage girls.
Therefore, Aden advises his client to go back into the closet and convey himself in as heterosexual a manner as possible.
Jackson reluctantly goes along with this, and soon finds to his delight that one of his “dates” is a lesbian. Soon, though, he’s become the target of relentless paparazzi, the subject of gossip columnists who’d love to be the one with the exclusive scoop that the hot new musical heartthrob is gay and the object of obsession by a nutty ex-lover.
Written and published long before Lance Bass came out, “Rockstarlet” offers readers an idea of what being in the present-day music industry entails. Most of the time, though, it’s busy lampooning Los Angeles’ shallow yet cutthroat culture, where “everyone in this town is so busy trying to be what they think will sell that nobody knows what’s real anymore.”
Yeah, this is hardly a newsflash. But it makes for a fun, breezy read just the same. For example, the scenes where Aden oversees Jackson’s new wardrobe and advises him to rein in the wrist action are hugely reminiscent of similar goings-on in “The Birdcage” and “La Cage aux Folles.”
Indeed, most of “Rockstarlet” consists of situations we’ve all seen or read before. But Lewis does such a good job that the end result is the literary equivalent of comfort food: You know what you’re getting, and you’re glad of it because it’s enjoyable, goes down easily and doesn’t contain any nasty surprises.
The many celebrity cameos ranging from Boy George to Monica Lewinsky are the decadent toppings to this particular trifle.
The reader knows that Jackson will have his share of close encounters with the press and has to go through a pre-ordained amount of soul-searching or else there wouldn’t be much of a book. But in the back of one’s mind, you know things will turn out just fine for Jackson no matter how improbable or unrealistic. Because of this certainty, the book’s climax offers little in the way of tension. After all, how can you fail when you end up with Oprah on your side?
In many ways, “Rockstarlet” resembles Tom Dolby’s novel “The Trouble Boy.” Both concern a newcomer’s arrival and rise in his career of choice. Both are interspersed with episodes of hot gay sex and the often humorous and/or unforeseen consequences of those sexual activities. And the protagonists of both books make monumentally bad decisions and have bouts of soul-searching and self-doubt.
Most of the characters in “Rockstarlet” are largely shallow and predictable, even by Los Angeles standards: Aden’s a stereotypically neurotic, pill-popping manager; Jackson’s agent, Bree Diamond, is a typical Hollywood mover-and-shaker and spin doctor extraordinaire, to name but two examples. It’s to Lewis’ credit that he’s able to get readers to care for them and their often-flawed, grasping schemes for success.
A singer-songwriter himself, Lewis brings an insider’s knowledge of the industry to the proceedings, and injects a good deal of humanity into his main character. Jackson has a strong connection with his family, is devastated when his father suffers a heart attack and follows his recover with palpable concern. Refreshingly, he’s also into older men (“daddies” of the debonair persuasion) and hopes one day to adopt and raise a child.
That being said, the idea of someone not breaking into the music industry until he’s 33 does stretch one’s willing suspension of disbelief. Given our society’s fascination with youth and beauty, Jackson could’ve (and possibly should’ve) been 23. Certainly his behavior at times is more consistent with people of those ages, rather than someone in his early 30s who really ought to know better.
However, these quibbles aside, “Rockstarlet” is a lighthearted read with occasional moments of surprising depth. A good, but not great, debut from a promising new talent.
MY BABY’S GOT A SECRET
“I knew I was gay on our wedding day but wanted children and feared AIDS.”
“I rescheduled a business conference so I wouldn’t miss my dog’s birthday.”
“I forced thousands of employees to take a pay cut so that I can get a pay raise.”
Frank Warren, author of “PostSecret” and “My Secret” stops in North Texas on Thursday. The gay scribe collects postcards bearing explosive confessions and revelations from folks around the globe.
Expressing themselves through photographs, collages, illustrations, the handmade cards offer a compelling dialogue on some of today’s most provocative topics from infidelity, to office politics and repressed fantasies.
Warren is promoting his newest release, “The Secret Lives of Men & Women.”
Books-A-Million at the Grapevine Mills Mall, 3000 Grapevine Mills Pkwy. Suite 231. Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. 972 539-0636.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, January 5, 2007.