GONZO GIRL, by Cheryl Della Pietra. Simon & Schuster, 272 pp., $24.99.
If possible, you'll want to read this novel in a hot tub, with a margarita. A couple of movie stars, a pack of Dunhill Reds and a plate of cocaine would fit right in as well.
No two ways about it, "Gonzo Girl" is a bad influence.
Author Cheryl Della Pietra spent a few months in 1992 as the assistant to infamous "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"), helping him write what turned out to be "Polo is My Life," a novel that was excerpted in Rolling Stone but never published. Twenty years later, she's written a roman à clef based on this experience. Walker Reade is Thompson, Ally Russo is Della Pietra, and most supporting characters are identifiable as well: Hans Bauer is RS editor Jann Wenner, Larry Lucas is John Cusack, Tommy Jagger is Johnny Depp, though he's only mentioned in passing as he comes from a much later period. I never could figure out September McAvoy (Drew Barrymoree) but maybe you will. Let me know.
Della Pietra evokes the legendary insanity of the scene at Thompson's Aspen compound -- peacock coop, shooting range and all, in glorious and often very funny detail.
Reade's living quarters: "The decor is best described as deer hunter meets sports bar meets quilting bee meets Architectural Digest."
Reade's restaurant order for two: "Five of the porterhouse steaks. Very rare, please. Then we'll have three orders of the double-cut pork chop. Two of the fettuccine dishes. Two grilled salmons. Four Caesar salads. Two iceberg wedges. One clams casino. One clams oreganata. The raw-bar tower. A side of creamed spinach. A side of potatoes Anna. A side of french-fried potatoes. And for dessert, a key lime pie."
Reade's writing routine: "The general rule is hands on the typewriter by 2 a.m."
The problem is, Reade can't write the way he used to. Among the many glaring flaws of the pages he's produced so far is "one big problem that has never before been an issue with Walker's work: it's kind of boring." So as the sun rises each morning, with a few last lines of coke and a pot of coffee to keep her going, Ally runs across the breezeway to her room with the page or two he has squeezed out on his old Selectric.
But here's the thing: As she retypes it into her Mac, she rewrites it completely. She brings back the old Walker Reade, "the distinctive, adrenalized, paranoid, genius on speed voice." Then she faxes the revised pages to Lionel Gray, his longtime editor, who has promised her $25,000 if she can do what eight previous assistants have failed to accomplish -- deliver a completed manuscript. (New York City Editors for $600: Who is Jim Silbermann)
The plot of the book, such as it is, revolves around when Reade will find out that the pages she's sending are not really his, whether Ally's going to be able to complete her own novel, and if something bad is going to happen with all those guns around. One can't help wishing she could have written this book as a memoir, because you end up really wanting to know what's real and what isn't. Ally has an affair with Larry Lucas, but did Cheryl actually sleep with John Cusackk Some things clearly are fictionalized, like the timing of the author's death -- for some reason she moves his suicide up four years, from 2005 to shortly after 9/11 -- so there's no telling.
"Gonzo Girl" is good, fast fun, like a thrill ride in a red convertible. A 1973 Chevy Caprice Classic, to be exact. You know the one.