Outside of another anecdote worthy of Luis Buñuel, concerning the effort to assuage his wife’s animosity by presenting her with an ever-growing pet pig, there’s relatively little humor here—twisted or otherwise—which may make the trek too grim for some. The liberal-minded might find it weirdly compelling, more than two hundred pages of our narrator waiting for the other shoe to drop.
While I’d never heard of novelist James Brown before, his brother Barry was once a burgeoning movie star. He started out as a writer, contributing articles on forgotten horror actors with macabre lives (acromegalic Rondo Hatton; addict Bela Lugosi) to the magazine Castle of Frankenstein
, and a chapter about the actress Katherine Victor to the book Scream Queens
(New York: Collier, 1978). After a string of bit parts and a lot of work in television, Barry was second-billed to Jeff Bridges in Robert Benton’s underrated and overlooked Bad Company
, followed by the male lead in Peter Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller
. Although hindsight allows us to snicker over that last one, at the time the director was very hot and Barry was poised for stardom. But Daisy Miller
took a beating, and Barry slid back into secondary roles in b-movies before committing suicide. Their sister Marilyn would take her life several years later.
No one should be made to suffer this heartbreak and tragedy, especially after a precarious childhood that had already left permanent scars. But James Brown never shares the joy of the experience of having his early novels published, nor does he relate the love once felt for his first wife and children. His rundown tone in The Los Angeles Diaries
barely conceals self-pity, a sense of victimization and the quixotic search for closure—as if such a beast ever existed.
Copyright © 2005 by Ray Young