Book Reviews Uncategorized

Book Review: Juggler, Porn Star, Monkey Wrench

Rich Leder

I was already a fan of Rich Leder’s work after reading his humorous mystery novel, Workman’s Complication, when I picked up Juggler, Porn Star, Monkey Wrench: A Romantic Hollywood Sex Comedy. (You can read my review of Workman’s Complication  HERE.

This book has a dry and sometimes dark/ironic humor. (Think of the type of humor in Love Actually or Death at a Funeral.) Mark Manilow, the protagonist, has a life careening out of control. When readers first meet him, he is an author who is poised on the verge of success. His screenplay, Full Force, has been turned into a big budget motion picture starring major Hollywood artists, he is married to a woman he adores, and he has just purchased a house. But as Mark explains, “there is no solid ground in LA. The place is always shifting.” Just like his house, which is built on wooden beams overhanging a canyon, his life is precariously balanced and it doesn’t take long for the supports to be knocked away one by one.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Leder creates a recipe for humor in the novel that builds layer-by-layer. First add the fact that Mark’s wife leaves him because he is too successful and earns too much money. At the same time, blend in the idea that his family thinks he is a failure because the movie, Full Force, is not scheduled for release. (If they can’t see it, then it isn’t real.) Next, add an accidental job in the adult film industry and an unhinged porn star who won’t leave his house. Throw into the mix a new age healer whose granddaughter is just enough of a distraction to turn Mark’s life upside down and a new writing project designed to turn the phone book into a movie. Shake well and serve to the reader. Sit back and listen to the laughter.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

The scene I enjoyed the most—and the one that made me the most uncomfortable—was the family intervention scene. I enjoyed it because of the way that Leder set it up and developed the situation.

Mark’s family is very conservative, and controlling. They are concerned about their place in the community and about the way that Mark is living his life. It is just not up to their standards. When Mark’s brother-in-law, Phil, comes across an adult film with Mark’s name listed as the author, the “family” decides to have an intervention for Mark’s obvious (to them) addiction. Interestingly, they do not question Phil about how he found the movie. Instead they fly to LA with a psychiatrist who also happens to be Mark’s soon-to-be ex-father-in-law, Bernie, and break into Mark’s house.

The way that Leder keeps the dialogue moving throughout the scene is wonderful and adds to the humor. It is easy to visualize the quick back and forth between the characters. When Mark asks Phil about how he found the movie, his sister, Leslie, calls Mark a jerk:

“You’re a jerk, Mark,” Leslie said.

“What did we say about name-calling, Leslie?” Bernie said.

“He’s a jerk, Bernie,” Leslie said.

“We all know that,” Bernie said. “And he may well always be one. It’s not something we can fix. But if we all participate in an orderly and adult fashion, he may become a jerk who isn’t addicted to porn.”

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” my mother said.

“If only,” my father said.

The scene also made me uncomfortable because of the empathy I felt for Mark. Leder creates wonderful, complex characters in his writing and I really felt connected to Mark and his situation. He is struggling to move forward in his life and this intervention is just one more piece that he has to try and salvage. Yet throughout the scene he is not thinking of himself; instead he wants to make this easier on his family. He knows that the intervention is not really about him—it is about their guilt.

. . the intervention was primarily about them and not me. My mother needed to absolve her anger, frustration, disappointment, embarrassment, and shame. It would be tough to sell real estate in Bergen County carrying those emotions in her purse. My father sought pardon for exposing me to naked African women. The blame for my porn compulsion was his and until he was forgiven, my troubled life would never be straightened out. Leslie came to California to reassert her supremacy in her life-long struggle for sibling dominance. Phil was here to gloat.

Bernie, being a psychiatrist, sought to accentuate and exacerbate my pain so that I would lift my sad-looking suitcase, packed with chinos, polos, argyle socks, and Italian loafers, and travel to Chicago, where he could split my head like a coconut . . .

It is this type of attitude that kept me as a reader rooting for Mark to succeed. He has problems in his life, but he keeps his own empathy for people. Mark could have reacted to the situation in another fashion; he could have been terribly angry that “the family” broke into his house and wanted to guilt-trip him for something that he did not actually do. Yet he realizes their motivations and their inability to address the actual issues in his life.

It is like the adage—you cannot see the forest for the trees. His family cared enough to fly to LA and stage the intervention, but they had no clue as to his real problems. They were trying to treat an issue that he did not have rather than to help him address the “emotional disorientation resulting from the abrupt and jagged end of” his marriage. The point is that they all mean well (except, perhaps, Phil) and Mark can appreciate this.

Juggler, Porn Star, Monkey Wrench is a delightfully multifaceted novel where the humor of the situation balances out the emotional difficulties faced by the main character and his family. It is a 5 star book that I hope everyone will enjoy.

 

If you want to learn more about Rich Leder, check out my “Five Minute Interview” with him  HERE.
Rich Leder Photo

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for a fair and timely review.

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3 comments

  1. Thank you for reading Juggler, Chris. I’m so pleased you enjoyed my crazy Hollywood ride…uh, I mean Mark’s crazy Hollywood ride. I’m grateful for your time and for your 5-star review and for letting me be a part of your very cool blog (again). Thank you, thank you…

    Rich Leder

    Like

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