March 20, 2010
Special to The Oregonian
Fiction Review: Seeing Stars
If your kid wanted it badly enough, would you sacrifice your life in favor of hers? Would you allow her dreams to subvert yours? Would you trade in your home, your friends, your sanity for a glimpse of her $1,400-per-cap smile as girl No. 3 in a Snapple commercial? Would you (collective gasp, collective shiver) head for Hollywood?
In 2005, Bend author Diane Hammond did.
Seeing Stars is the novel based on the two years she abandoned the Pacific Northwest in favor of Los Angeles to support her daughter's acting ambitions. "It was a remarkable, surreal, transformative experience not only for my daughter but for me and my husband, as well," she writes. "There is no place quite like Hollywood, in all its feverishness and tawdriness and glory."
That heated glitz seeps from the pages of Seeing Stars, which doesn't so much follow as it spies on, or traipses after, four tweens and their parents engaged in various stages of catapulting down a potholed yellow brick road toward an ephemeral Oz. In a rare act of literary tightrope-walking, Hammond builds her characters into believable, empathic common folk while simultaneously painting the town and its denizens schmaltzy. By overlaying morals -- love of children, support of family -- with the lure of possibility (wealth! fame!), she makes the vacuous nature of covetous ambition palpable and reprehensible, yet somehow equally understandable.
"I would never," you think to yourself, right before segueing into, "but then again, I just might ...."
That is, until a casting director, early in the novel, stops referring to the kids as people and instead describes them as commodities. You revert: "I would never!"
Hammond's comprehensive, chipper Web site (dianehammond.com) speaks directly to that conflict: "This notion of employability, mixed with superheated competitiveness, is at the heart of what makes the world of child actors so ripe with opportunities for things to go seriously wrong," Hammond writes. "Children hold the keys to their parents' futures rather than the other way around, and normal notions of parenting often go out the window."
With razor-sharp insight, Hammond grabs us by the wrist and dives into the child-actor world, whirling us fluidly into the lives, and perspectives, of every character -- the children (drifters, naifs, 13s-going-on-30), the parents (those in tow, those left behind), the brokers (agents, managers, casting directors). Love it or hate it, this is an untarnished look at the spoils of fame, the residue of unbridled longing and the lengths too many go to for those 15 minutes of marquee-made joy.