Temptation, by Douglas Kennedy

A writer wrestling demons in the city of angels
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The Independent Culture

Most novelists who write for Hollywood end up hating it. Even those on a generous pay cheque eventually bite the hand that feeds them. Douglas Kennedy, whose fiction has been optioned several times over, is a clued-up veteran of this rocky relationship, and Temptation captures the roller-coaster ride. After a decade of near-misses, 41-year-old screenwriter David Armitage sells a script to television. Overnight, he finds himself a player in Tinseltown, creator of the hit comedy series Selling You. Able to quit his day job, he trades in his Reagan-era Volvo for a Porsche, and upgrades his telesales wife, Lucy, for a sleek young executive at Fox.

Reprising the narrative voice of his early novels - hardboiled thrillers about men on the run - Kennedy evokes the heady excitement of a man who suddenly finds himself on "the charmed side of the street". A life of Malibu beach houses and Emmy nominations beckons, but David is not without his moments of despair, especially about leaving his young daughter, Caitlin. Much of the novel deals with the navel-gazing angst of a man torn between domesticity and sex.

One of the clichés of the Hollywood blockbuster is that the glitzy façade conceals dysfunctional depths. Despite his success, David wakes each morning to the certain knowledge that he is only as good as his last pitch. He even starts to suspect that his pneumatic new squeeze, Sally Birmingham, is not the real thing.

Interested in the quotidian details of his characters' lives, Kennedy paints a less than glamorous portrait of the life of a jobbing writer. We know as much about the state of David's bank balance as his accountant, and feel closer to his super-capable agent, Alison, than his wife. His "schtupping" broker, Bobby - a hustler of the old school - has the best lines in the book.

A meeting with a multi-billionaire and self-taught cineaste, Philip Fleck, proves David's undoing. A sinister amalgam of Howard Hughes and Stanley Kubrick, Fleck proposes an unsavoury collaboration that, when the relationship sours, results in accusations of "literary theft". Ousted from his show, David is left wondering how far he has scripted his own final act.

As in his female-friendly bestsellers The Pursuit of Happiness and State of the Union, Kennedy proves himself an agile and entertaining storyteller. His love stories are mature - they usually fail - and informed by a sympathetic sensibility that would not be out of place in a John Irving novel. Kennedy's narrators, from movie tycoons to oncologists, face recognisable crises and dilemmas. The plot lines might be implausible, but the emotional pay-off is real. Scott Fitzgerald left the movie business convinced "all life is a process of breaking down". Kennedy chooses - and gets away with - the Hollywood ending that we all prefer: "Tomorrow is another day."

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