Time, you know, chooses its targets carefully. With red wine, certain cheeses or ancient architecture, the wearing of years adds a richness of depth and a uniqueness of flavor that allows them to stand out as superior to a fresh bottle of newly-laid plonk served with Velveeta on crackers in an American-Soviet high rise box. Less fortunately, that simply smashing shirt or skirt you bought in 1986 now makes you look like a windmill on a miniature golf course. No, clothes don’t age well and neither do television sets, hairlines or memoirs.
Oh, that’s right. Memoirs do not age well, particularly les romans à clef with their leads and surrounding characters hidden by disguises as flimsy as Superman’s curl or Clark Kent’s eyeglasses. The joy of them becomes their fatal flaw. We all enjoy a good old game of, ‘I Know Who That Is!’ as that cheating poet with the roguish curls and lust for battle can only be Lord Byron. And if you did not recognize that reference to Lady Caroline Lamb’s 1816 novel Glenarvon, don’t feel too badly for no one else has read it for pleasure in the last century and a half. They lose their potency. Supporting characters who had achieved a certain notoriety and thus were worth spotting like Easter eggs or buried truffles descend first into trivia and then into inconsequentiality.
And yet, some do survive and even improve over time, the rare few that beat the odds like Cary Grant’s looks or an antique watch. There’s Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises for one, Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night or Dominick Dunne’s re-casting of the Woodward murder in The Two Mrs. Grenvilles. One must not forget either Dorothy Parker’s Big Blonde which is the story of its author’s descent into alcoholism. Any or all can be read and enjoyed with absolutely no inkling of who the hell Gerald and Sara Murphy were or what a Belair Stud is. (It was a horse ranch darling, not a gigolo.)
For a roman à clef to have a life beyond the immediate party game, it absolutely must have two qualities going for it. As a novel, it must have a richness of story that just happens to coincidentally involve some notable celebrities or other newsworthy figures. And of course, it better be bloody well-written.
For those two reasons, I equally love and admire Vicki Abelson’s Don’t Jump. Yes, it took me a while to get around to saying that, but great books like great stage actresses deserve a proper entrance.
What I found most incredible about Don’t Jump is how it has grown. Full disclosure: I read an earlier draft of Don’t Jump three years ago or so. I had ‘intermet’ Vicki Abelson because of my admiration for her fantastic book salon held at her home in Los Angeles, Women Who Write. At the time, I thought her manuscript was more than publishable in its current form. It was sharp, it was funny, it told the story well of Andi, a nice Jewish girl from New York who existed as a close observer of the music and television scene through the 1980s and 90s while never quite making it to stardom herself. I told Vicki, ‘Keep at it and you will find a publisher.’
We then flash forward and what I have just read is a complete, rich, wonderful novel. Yes I know who the musicians are, the athlete is and the talk show host. They scarcely matter. Andi herself has matured within her book. She is a perfectly articulated portrait of a woman who seeks identity in the world of entertainment; a world where no one is ever quite who they proclaim to be. Stars you know are like real stars; the closer you get to their center the more likely it is you will be burnt to a crisp. That bitter truth leads Andi into an addiction to marijuana. If reality sucks, change the channel.
Now, I expect some shrill criticism of Vicki Abelson for writing about a marijuana addiction, to which I can only say shut up. People can become addicted to anything – booze, smokes, salt n’ vinegar chips, chocolate, shoes, porcelain hippos, cars, sex and yes weed too. Andi’s marijuana also came mixed into a nasty goulash of addictions to love and, when all else fails, food. So leave the correct politics at the door.
Don’t Jump explores every corner and does so in smooth, flowing language. To quote one passage, when Andi rushes home after an afternoon tryst, she writes:
‘Slowing as I got to my corner, I tried to casually stroll into the building. Smiling at Nick, the afternoon guy, I ran to the elevator to try to beat Frank home. As I approached the door of the apartment I listened for a second. When I didn’t discern any sound, I quickly unlocked the door, immediately double locking it behind me. Throwing off my clothes, I pushed them low in the hamper, well under the mounds of more recent wear. Jumping in the shower, I scrubbed myself silly, quickly blow- dried my hair and the mirror to hide my recent activity. Since when did I shower before dinner?’
Don’t Jump is also wonderfully funny, with the humor coming, as all the best humor does, from the characters placed in awkward, believable situations and not from jokes laid in with a staple gun. It is not at all dissimilar to Carrie Fisher’s Postcards From the Edge and forty years has been way too long a wait for someone to come along who can write in that outside/insider mode. That said, Vicki Abelson can fire off a punchline like a rifle shot. ‘If I was going to hell, I was going down in a blaze of horny.’ I laughed out loud at that one and trust me, I am one lousy audience when it comes to comedy.
Ultimately then, Don’t Jump is a delicious roman à clef a la Carrie Fisher, with the emotional honesty and deft writing of a modern Dorothy Parker. It has an intelligence without snobbery, a wit beyond crudity, a sensitivity without preachiness … and is funny as all hell.
About Random Content
Random Content is a Los Angeles publishing / digital production company comprised of graphic designers, filmmakers, editors, and development minds. Random Content is an ideas machine where collaboration has produced award-winning results since 1994. Random Content breaks new ground in iBook production, branded content, interactive and broadcast. Founder/EP/Director Lawrence O’Flahavan have assembled a team whose experience in strategy, marketing, design and technology creates engaging new ways to tell stories in every possible medium. From digital initiatives to groundbreaking apps, we work with our partners to conceive, produce and distribute memorable entertainment.