Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: "Arts & Entertainments" by Christopher Beha

"Handsome Eddie" Hartley dreamed of being a successful actor. After being noticed in a small play, he started to get parts in commercials and small roles on television. But despite his good looks and his desire to succeed, his career never took off. Now, at age 33, he teaches acting to students at the Catholic boys' school he used to attend, and despite the fact that he and his wife Susan are struggling to have a child—something that is taking both a financial and an emotional toll—he's happy with his life, even if it didn't turn out like he had hoped.

Well, sort of. You see, Martha Martin, star of the wildly popular television show Dr. Drake and a perennial fixture in the entertainment media, used to be Eddie's girlfriend. Eddie thought he and Martha had something special, but when her career took off, she quickly left him behind, never to speak to him again. And although Eddie has moved on with his life, he can't help but feel a little envious, a little bitter each time he sees Martha in the media.

Desperate for the money to support another fertility treatment, Eddie reluctantly jumps at the idea to sell an old sex tape that he and Martha made back in the day. He figures that no publicity is bad publicity, so if the attention around the leaked sex tape gives him the chance to get back into the spotlight, he won't complain. But Eddie drastically underestimates the effect the tape will have on his life, his marriage, his career, his relationships with others, and his dream of finally becoming an actor. He won't ever have control of his life ever again.

Christopher Beha's Arts & Entertainments is a satirical look at our obsession with celebrities and reality television, and just how manipulated reality really is. While the book strives to be outlandish, and is in some ways, it's scary how some of the more ridiculous things the book pokes fun of have actually happened on television—or probably will soon. This book had particular relevance for me as I watched a former Bachelorette have an ultrasound on television last night to determine the sex of her unborn child (despite the fact that magazines had already reported she and her husband knew the sex of their baby in advance).

This is a funny, entertaining book, and a very quick read. It all seems fairly familiar, especially if you have any knowledge of our celebrity-obsessed culture, but that doesn't detract from its appeal. The only thing I couldn't quite figure out was whether Beha was saying that everyone really wants to be a star of their own reality television series, or if his characters all were ultimately as shallow as they appeared.

I wasn't sure what to expect of this book, but I enjoyed it. It's a fun summer read—and the perfect complement to the magazines you might pick up at the newsstand or the grocery store. (But it's a book, so you can feel slightly superior.)

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