Debut novel skewers highfalutin Hollywood

Sunday, March 14, 2004

"So 5 Minutes Ago" is the debut novel of journalist Hilary de Vries, who has covered Hollywood for more than a decade.

In her book, she skewers everyone, from former movie stars and their fawning assistants to the people who populate the red carpet at awards show -- "folks you can't tell without a scorecard -- dour-looking agents, executives and producers."

Alex Davidson is a thirtysomething publicist who's worked for some of the biggest and not-so-biggest Hollywood stars. Her "rules" include: Never take any call you can return, never expect stars to acknowledge you exist and never read anything except the weekend box-office grosses and the tabloids.

Alex's "legendary if fading" publicity agency has just merged with another firm. What does this mean for Alex's former boss -- and Alex herself? Will they be among those to exit the agency? This is the main ingredient of "So 5 Minutes Ago," but it's the tasty tidbits stirred into the stew that make the novel so piquant.

The cast of characters includes Troy Madden, who's tumbled from his Vanity Fair cover heights of a few years back; former rising young star Scooby (back when she was in the closet), who's gone public with Scrappy, another Hollywood starlet; and the Phoenix, who has two cats, named Botox and Lipo, and is getting her own reality series.

Alex must keep Troy, after his three stays in rehab, out of trouble; kick-start Scooby's career, which is all but dead; and persuade the Phoenix not to leave the agency.

Meanwhile, her family arrives for a visit, and just pulling out of the driveway of their hotel is an ordeal as they head to Beverly Hills "for humiliation and dim sum."

"So 5 Minutes Ago" doesn't evoke tons of sympathy for publicists, despite the abuse Alex takes from her employers and clients. What it does offer is a view of Hollywood as seen through the eyes of an insider; reason enough to enjoy what de Vries has to offer, especially if you're a stargazer.