Originally published August 2014
Is it live or is it Memorex?
Christopher Beha’s “Arts & Entertainments” is a quick, engaging beach read you could finish in a weekend—but chances are, your thoughts may linger just a little longer.
It’s not that it’s really deep—it shines a fictional spotlight on reality TV. It’s more that, by the end of the novel, it’s easy to question if anything on TV is ever real. I’m not a rube—I know that 99.9 percent of all reality TV is scripted. But what Beha accomplishes at the end of this book is a twist that isn’t entirely unexpected, yet will still have you facepalming yourself.
At the center of “Arts & Entertainments” is Handsome Eddie Hartley—a had-a-chance actor that returns to his prep school to teach drama. His ex, Martha, has made it big, and his wife, Susan, has babies on the brain. With reminders everywhere of the love he lost, the career he never had and the wife he disappoints because he can’t get her pregnant, Eddie is in a spiral of self-loathing he can’t seem to extricate himself from.
For a brief moment, Eddie sees a way out—a chance to give Susan what she wants, which is another round of IVF. With the credit cards maxed out, Eddie throws a Hail Mary of a move that will get him some much-need cash. What he didn’t expect was the notoriety. Kinda stupid, considering the Hail Mary is a sex tape starring he and his ex.
Eddie, Eddie, Eddie … what were you thinking? No sex tape ever goes well for the guy. People remember Paris Hilton, but they don’t remember the jackass she did the nasty with, except that it was the dude that was once married to Shannen Doherty. Eddie’s master plan blows up in his face—and the attention he subconsciously was hoping for instead goes to everyone else, including his wife.
At the end of the day, everyone wants a piece of the action, but no one wants any piece of Eddie. Does he have any chance of getting his life back? I can’t say much more without spoiling it for the reader.
As mentioned above, the book is engaging and quick—two big thumbs up for a weekend read. It’s not high brow, but it isn’t dreck, either. I think my only beef really is that I think I am supposed to root for Eddie, but it’s kind of hard. I did have a certain amount of empathy for the guy—it has to be hard when you are at the mercy of reality TV puppetmasters. But there’s really not a single redeeming character. And maybe, if it’s a reflection of reality TV, then that’s exactly the point.