Essay on Death by Hollywood
Death by Hollywood, a novel by Steven Bochco, is a study in the use of irony. Unfortunately, the legendary creator of cop shows like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law probably shouldn’t have tried to write a novel. Death is a strange book to read, with almost no literary devices, virtually no visual or sensual description. It reads like a pitch meeting in the office of a producer that was simply transcribed. One assumes the camera will show it all later. But in one way, Death by Hollywood is extraordinary. It’s use of irony.
With Bochco, there’s always a lot of good/bad happening simultaneously. It’s a rich experience. You get a tingle of excitement, a sense of secretly enjoying something forbidden, like eating a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie all by yourself, then stuffing the container into the bottom of the trash can and washing the spoon off so no one will ever know.
The story is Hitchcock’s Rear Window with a twist. The narrator of the story is Eddie Jelko, a Hollywood agent, but the voice is all Bochco (raunchy, cynical, clever, blunt, outrageous, insightful). Jelko tells us about Bobby Newman, one of his screenwriter clients, who’s fingers are spending more time wrapped around a bottle than tapping on a keyboard these days (by the way, the whole book is written in present tense, which is important to note). Bored, sloshed, spying on his neighbors through a telescope, Bobby sees the wife of a Hollywood billionaire having wild, animal sex with her Latin lover. They quarrel, she smacks him on the head with a golden acting statue, and Bingo! Bobby has the plot for the screenplay that’s going to save his career.
Does he call 911? Of course not! Bobby…
…egative. Irony gives your story much greater depth, a more sensual texture. The result is an ending that is, quite often, richly fulfilling.
The ultimate irony of Death by Hollywood is that just when we think we’re Omniscient, we’re not. We’re lulled into god-like all-knowingness. And then Bochco springs his surprise on us. On the last page, agent Eddie Jelko explains that he’s afraid for his life. Now that he knows about the detective’s secret, Farentino might want to shut him up. Jelko tells us that he’s placing the manuscript in a safe deposit box – to be released only in the event of his death. The guy who’s been telling us the story all this time (in present tense), our narrator Eddie Jelko, is already dead, six feet under in a pine box. On the last few words of the last page, we discover that, alas, we never even suspected the biggest secret of all.