“The Rock Star in Seat 3A will not, in and of itself, convince the Pulitzer committee that a prize is due in 2012, but a good time will be had by all.”
The Big Surprise presented by The Rock Star in Seat 3A, the new work by author Jill Kargman, who previously has written such pleasantries as the novel The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund and the essay collection Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut, has little to do with the book’s characters, structure or even plot. All these we have seen before, repeatedly. And it most certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with the title—something that seems to have been picked at random out of a hat.
The Big Surprise is just how much fun the book is to read, how spritely the words seem to be as they rush across the page. And how sorry the reader is to see it end.
Like a Catskill comic, Ms. Kargman spurts an onslaught of jokes in a manner at once rinky-tink and rat-a-tat-tat—rather like playing a paintball game in which suddenly everyone’s guns are aimed at your head. The reader ducks while turning the pages as jokes come rushing at him, aimed right between his eyes.
The Big Surprise comes as a surprise because the first few pages of the The Rock Star make the reader wary. The prologue comes packed with a quote from Doctor Suess (a bad sign):
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
Two very different thoughts, sort of crammed together there.
What we get in those first few pages is nonsense, pure and simple. Dream jobs. Dream boyfriends. Dream complexions on faces that, when seen in the mirror, are sneered at as been too pale, too blotchy, too bloated, etc. The usual. Ballsy girl who does not (see: Fifty Shades of Grey, et al), seems to understand not only is she ballsy and bright, but also beautiful enough that the billionaire/rock star/politician/fill-in-the-blank-for-yourself who can have anyone, anywhere, anytime, only has eyes for her. The girl so great that you would hate her if not for the fact that she considers herself so awkward/plain/lost, which makes her so very self-deprecating that we cannot help to love her ourselves as she attempts to stand in for every female reader and thus ensure them a Good Read.
Those notorious first few pages, however, are host to a thousand lame jokes.
Here’s one, a bit of the monologue playing in the head of our girl, Hazel, when Finn Schiller, the rock god who indeed sits in seat 3A of the airplane right after she has seated herself in seat 3B:
“Thank god I didn’t have that Activa yogurt from my fridge or I’d’ve surely shat.”
Alliterative? Most surely. Plus points for using “I’d’ve” in a written sentence. And then there’s the product placement. But funny? No.
Luckily, it seems that Ms. Kargman has taken to heart the second half of the Dr. Suess quote more than the first. And so, after a few pages of predictable plots and characters cracking wise with spotty jokes worthy of a whole weekend at Grossinger’s circa 1962, nonsense gives way to pure fantasy (which, luckily, given the literary environment of the present moment, in no way involves whips, silk neckties or rumpus rooms).
Only rock stars, sports cars, high-priced sushi restaurants, world tours, and an ongoing series of jokes about the menu offerings at an imaginary topless tapas restaurant (home of “quesaDDillas,” “chicken flautatas,” “enchilaaahhhdas” and “sopa de whoretilla”—you get the idea).
Here’s the plot: Hazel is the sort of woman that can hang with the guys. She works for a gamer who sends her from her home base in NYC out to LA to get the details right for his soon-to-be-released game, “Pimps N’ Ho’s Five.”
After arriving at the airport late, she finds that she is bumped up to first class, where she is seated Right Next To her very own rock idol, a man who, as her fiancé agreed at her 30th birthday party seemingly moments before, had been much discussed:
“I just am drawn to him, he’s always had this power over me, like he’s a six-foot magnet and my bones are coated in metal.”
Apparently, Finn, on being vomited on by Hazel during in-flight turbulence, seems to agree (about the metal/magnet thing). And soon Hazel is faced with the choice between fantasy (the rock guy) and reality (Wylie, her chef fiancé, who is about to open his first restaurant, which he has decided to name “Hazel” out of love and dedication, and who spells out “Will You Marry Me?” in day-glo stickers on the ceiling above their mattress. (“The dream proposal. ‘Cut out in little stars,’ Romeo and Juiet-style.”)
Just to give potential readers a hint, Hazel pretty much sums up her dilemma as follows:
“Finn had sexual avarice that was palpable when we were near each other—pure bubbling-over chemistry, the kind that burst a test tube in science lab. Wylie was quieter and subdued; he would never rip off my blouse. But sometimes I fucking want my shredded clothes in a balled heap on the floor! I wanted to be wanted.”
What happens from there is a good-read tale of yin/yang, black and white, angel on one shoulder, devil on the other. The sort of thing that cries out to become a movie that would have had Meg Ryan Hazeling at her best, twenty years ago, and Julia Roberts a decade back.
Today, who knows?—but the book demands a camera, some great sets, a loudly sexy guy as Finn and James Franco (to whom he is constantly compared in Hazel’s revelry, right down to his “melted chocolate” eyes) as Wylie, along with a huge budget for wardrobe, just to get the details right.
The Rock Star in Seat 3A will not, in and of itself, convince the Pulitzer committee that a prize is due in 2012, but a good time will be had by all.
Even if our author, at a rather odd moment, seems to tire of her story and to just jump to the ending just when the reader expects to get to Madrid and Rome, if not Tokyo, giving the last third narrative the same sort of jerking turbulence that those flying from New York to Los Angeles experienced early on. Confusion may reign.
Some readers may search under the furniture for what seems to be the missing 50 or so pages, and yet, however, abbreviated, the story appeals. And the final this-guy-or-that-one decision satisfies and comes together in a cinematic moment that Reese Witherspoon could most certainly pull off with aplomb.