Libido: Reviews: California Screaming
California Screaming

By Charles-Gene McDaniel

Doug Guinan in California Screaming brilliantly captures the shallowness of Hollywood in its most extreme as well as that of a certain stratum of gay culture. Only appearances matter among those who have been dyed, blow-dried, lifted, pumped up, plucked and tucked, painted, scented and obscenely draped and bejeweled. Occasionally emotion, even more occasionally a thought intervenes. Like all good satire, Guinan's novel skewers its subjects in describing their extremes.

This is the story of Kevin, a transplanted gay New Yorker and sometime fashion photographer who spends more time in the gym working out than working at his trade. While living on the edge, he maintains his gorgeous looks and ripped body. Having a big cock proves to be another asset when he meets Brad Sherwood, a scheming multimedia mogul who is rich beyond the dreams of Croesus and is the world's most eligible gay bachelor.

What Brad does not have is an adoring attendant whose looks would complement his position and his wealth, arm candy for public appearances, a satyr in bed, company for impulsive trips in his private jet. He finds that person in Kevin, who at first is seduced by the money and what it buys, but then brings chaos to the Hollywood Hills love nest by falling in love. Brad reciprocates -- at first grudgingly, then needfully.

The cast of characters also includes Leon, Kevin's roommate, a failed actor turned decorator, with whom he shares a workout obsession and a tacky, barely furnished apartment. Rob, a faded former skating star who has become rich with his Ice Extravaganzas and a bank account in a European tax haven, is a friend of Rob's, a fellow sybarite, and exchanges with him videos of sex with young men. Shane is an airline flight attendant, a sweet, vacuous neighbor of Kevin and Leon's who becomes obsessed with body-building and steroids. Along the way we meet hustlers and the California golden boys who look delicious in the swimming pool and who also share their bodies in exchange for cash and lightly promised roles in movies, as well as other stereotypes, gay and otherwise.

In the end there is some moral redemption. Meanwhile, the reader is entranced with the suspense of the finely woven plot and the author's acquaintance with the minute details of the glitzy life of la-la land and his impressive knowledge of the workings of the vicious back-stabbing intricacies of corporate and crime syndicate life, which differ only in degrees of sophistication.

However offensive Guinan's characters may appear in a politically correct era, most readers will accept and enjoy them for what they are -- satire. Gay men, at least, can still laugh at themselves, in contrast to some other discreet groups that have become boringly sensitive to criticism. The characters represent a minuscule slice of gay life, but one that is all too visible and provides fodder for the religious oppressors. That notwithstanding, California Screaming is screamingly hilarious. Great literature it is not. Great fun it is.

California Screaming by Doug Guinan (Alyson Publications, Los Angeles, 1998. ISBN 155583- 539-2. 304 pages, paper $12.95).

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