Life and Death in the Hollywood Hills

Dead Stars, by Bruce Wagner. Blue Rider Press, 604 pp. $35

Disclaimer: The content presented in this novel is not for children.

It’s easy to think that reality television is faked. Most of it is. And, especially in northwest Iowa, it’s easy to see the MTV teenage television and the desperate YouTube videos and disconnect those images from what we deem as “real life.”

But for many, those desperate videos are what real life is made of.

Bruce Wagner’s Dead Stars is an irreverent tribute and a shameless mockery of this exact mindset. This is one of the more controversial books that will hit the market this year, without question. And it doesn’t take much to see why.

Telma Bella Peony Ballendyne is, at 13-years-old, the youngest cancer survivor in the world. When she was nine, she had a double mastectomy, and she has spent the next four years using her disease as a marketing tool. Her career dream is to become a permanent cast member on Glee. Not from The Glee Project, but intentionally cast into a specific role.

Reeyonna, named Jerilynn by her mother but called Reeyonna, or ReeRe, by her friends, is a pregnant teenager. She wants her boyfriend, Rikki, to move out of his parents’ home and into an apartment with her, because she’s seen Teen Mom and she knows what happens when the mom and the dad don’t live together once the baby is born.

Rikki wants to change. He wants to quit the drugs and the porn and everything that he’d been doing for the past number of years. He wants to become an actor and impress his parents, because they’re going through the process of adopting him, and he doesn’t want to mess that up.

Jerzy, Reeyonna’s strung-out brother, has found his niche as a paparazzo, specifically targeting the incriminating moments of barely-legal celeb-utantes.

Bud Wiggins is a washed-out screenwriter who is waiting for his 92-year-old mother to die so that he can get his inheritance.

Jacquie, Reeyonna and Jerzy’s mother, is still living off of her fame as an avant-garde photographer taking photos of her daughter as a young child.

There is nothing heartwarming about Dead Stars. For a responsible, culturally-awakened and discerning adult, it’s sad from the get-go. It’s chocked-full of swearing, sex and other cringe-worthy topics. And yet, I can guarantee that it’ll be a bestseller.

GQ magazine named it their “Big Read of the month” for August, and tweeted on Thursday, “Their eyes were watching TMZ. Is celebrity obsession driving us all crazy?”

It’s very possible that many people who read this book will hate it. But it’s important to understand that the people who exist in this novel do exist in our world now. We’ve become so hypped up on Vitamin Kardashian and Bieber-fever, that we have completely lost all sense of identity, just like each of the characters in Wagner’s novel.

Is the writing good? Of course. If it wasn’t, this book would be an all-out failure. But I can guarantee that it will hit the bestseller lists. And, regardless of how “good” it is, people will talk. Which, I believe, is the message Wagner was sending all along.

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About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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