Rescue Me
by Gigi Levangie Grazer, contemporary (2001)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-671-04280-7


Gigi Levangie Grazer's claim to fame is her writing the script for that sickeningly saccharine Julia Roberts-Susan Sarandon movie Stepmom, and Rescue Me is her debut novel. However, unlike Stepmom, Rescue Me is a dark, harsh look at love and heartbreak in Hollywood, white trash style.

Amanda McHenry always believed that she will marry her boyfriend James Cruz. She will graduate from college and find a big job as an entertainment journalist in Hollywood, and he will be a big hotshot lawyer. Together, they will beat the ghetto and live the American dreams.

Not that she loves James, you see, she's his best friend, and they can't do better than best friends whom they just happen to boink, right? Amanda has a brother Valentin, who is a drug dealer as well as junkie. Val and his on-off girlfriend Patrice live with Amanda, and it is their child Madison, whom Amanda mothers, make Amanda's life tolerable.

One day, when James is about to leave for law school (Harvard), Val brings home a friend. Six feet two, dark, lean, and handsome enough to kill, Gabe Williams is all Amanda dreams of in a man. She suddenly can't wait for Jimmy to leave.

"Go. Go, go-go-go-go!" Amanda's brain shouted. "Go! Arrivederci, Roma. Bye-bye, Sayonara. Later. Hasta la vista, Babeee!"

"I love you," James said. And meant it.

"I love you too," Amanda said. And meant it, as well. And then her brain, her mortal enemy, added, "But now I have to fuck someone else."

But don't feel bad for James. He has plenty of fun in Harvard too. See, he and Amanda love each other, but it's not just how Amanda and Gabe love each other, the author tells me.

If you can't tell by now, this is not a romance novel in your usual Susan Elizabeth Phillips style. Rescue Me is not even marketed as a romance, so don't come flaming me that the book you bought has adultery. In spades. And you know what, it has graphic drug abuse scenes too. And some violence, like how Valentin or Val bashes his friend's head in or the rather horrifying finale, pre-last-chapter. While never accelerating to violence Tarantino-style, Rescue Me is still best savored by twisted romantics who love, say, Tarantino's True Romance.

After all, Amanda is bad, witty, and oops, she slept with her boss. Big deal. The real biggie here is her feelings for Gabe. There's no such thing as love at first sight, Amanda will scoff. Get f**king real. But she can't get Gabe out of her mind. Maybe it's love, Babee. How can she resist Gabe? He's shy when it comes to charming and schmoozing women, he loves and takes good care of his Daddy, and he will do anything for Amanda. He is her Prince Charming that gallops out of the dirt and sleaze of the Hollywood slums.

Even Val and Patrice have a semblance of a love story here, even if love stories between junkies must come to a bitter end. Likewise, James is not that bad a character, a low-down hustler who will do anything to leave his immigrant roots behind. He just wants to be a rich, accepted ersatz Anglo-Saxon. He's not malicious, just misguided.

I can't really give a clearer synopsis here short of giving away the ending, because the story just moves along at its own charming, often violent, often cynical turn and pace. But I do like Amanda who won't hesitate to do anything to survive, and I like Gabe too, even if he's a bit too good to be true, in the usual PC-depiction of an African-American guy. (By the way, Amanda is half-Hispanic.)

If I have a quibble, it's how Amanda just falls apart and becomes a shadow of her former self by the ending. But that's probably because - nah, if I say more, I'd have given away the ending. But the last chapter is lovely, and a most romantic and gentle ending to a dark, twisted, and wicked story about life in Hollywood from the viewpoints of those lowest in the food chain.

Rating: 93


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