"The Wilshire Sun" by Joshua Baldwin
FICTION REVIEW: Lost in L.A. - with delicious, screwy results
- Article by: ANTHONY BUKOSKI
- Special to the Star Tribune
- September 6, 2011 - 2:20 PM
In "The Wilshire Sun" (Turtle Point Press, 128 pages, $12.50), Joshua Baldwin's youthful protagonist heads west to write for the movies. Like the naive main characters in so many American novels and films -- say, Nathanael West's "The Day of the Locust" and David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" -- Baldwin's Jacob discovers Los Angeles is much different than he expected. Recently arrived from Brooklyn, he notices how "a bunch of palm trees were drooping over my head, filling me with a new desire" to write scripts. "Listening to the buses swish by, rising early, the pages will definitely pour out of me with great ease."
Ill-prepared for La-La Land though undaunted by the city, he plans his career -- that is, when he's not feeling queasy, feverish or lethargic. "Trying to determine where my laziness comes from," he moves from one apartment and one adventure to another, thus gathering experiences to write about. In his job at a hotel's poolside newsstand, he meets a pill-popping Mr. Jack, who claims to be the guitarist on "Fleur D'Ennui," a song playing over the speaker. Another time, he thinks "dreaming is good for writers -- it's the same as writing, really," then he goes back to sleep. This is funny stuff.
By the end of his 98-page narrative, the comical, ennui-filled Jacob has written little more than "letters to and from imaginary persons regarding Los Angeles" and scribbled "some lousy jokes and bits of dialogue" in his notepad. "I'd never read a script before," he confesses when he helps his friend Jerry with the ending of a piece about a hermaphrodite trumpet player in the University of Chicago marching band.
The schlub from Brooklyn is more than a comedian, however. When he leaves New York, he repeats Huck Finn's line about lighting out for the territory. Later allusions to Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," to Herman Melville's "White Jacket" and "Mardi," and to the myth of the American West suggest a further acquaintance with American literature and culture. The references add intellectual depth to the delicious screwiness.
Despite the good-natured narrator and his strange and interesting adventures, two concerns arise for this reviewer. In "The Wilshire Sun," the gags occasionally fall flat, and the ending seems abrupt, as though Baldwin were eager to conclude.
Still, one is left thinking that Jacob, "a scruffy faced and plump good-for-nothing ... an Elvis Presley stunt-double in need of a shower," will eventually realize his dreams. So long as there is a blue Pacific Ocean and a Golden State, hope remains for guys like him and his pal Jerry Stamp. In Baldwin's delightful novella, these disarming slackers live life on their terms, bringing to mind younger versions of "The Big Lebowski."
Anthony Bukoski lives in Superior, Wis. This month, Holy Cow! Press will publish in paperback his 2003 short-story collection "Time Between Trains."
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