American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor

At the beginning of Matthew Specktor’s second novel, American Dream Machine, a young Beau Rosenwald is given a copy of Coriolanus and some parting words of advice from his mentor: ‘The story of one bloodbath can prepare you for the next.’ Beau, an aspiring talent agent, is leaving New York for Hollywood, where ‘slow fucking is what they do best’. But Los Angeles is also the spiritual homeland of any talent agent worth his salt, and Beau, son of a Queens shoemaker, is hungry for success.

Narrated by Beau’s illegitimate son, Nate, American Dream Machine is an epic, freewheeling romp through Hollywood. Spanning two generations, it tells of Beau’s rise to become one of Tinseltown’s elite, and Nate’s struggle to find himself in the tumultuous wake of his father. It also charts the changes in the movie business, from the decline of the Golden Age in the late 60s through to the corporate-driven blockbusters of the present day. As the son of a successful Hollywood agent and a former film executive himself, Specktor knows this history well.

LA is lovingly rendered through descriptions of Sunset Boulevard, Santa Ana winds and massive film lots. Stars are equally part of the geography, and Specktor weaves Jack Nicholson, ‘Marty’ Scorsese and ‘Bob’ De Niro into his narrative, often with comedic results. The opening features a younger, not-so-famous George Clooney cavorting around town, smoking joints and singing soul classics in the bottom of an emptied swimming pool. The fictional characters in turn are a ragtag bunch of actors, agents, washed-up beauties and stoners, but Specktor does well developing them beyond the stereotypical.

As a novel, American Dream Machine reads almost like a product of Hollywood itself: often overly sentimental, glamorous and brash.

Joseph Rubbo is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.