:: Article

Nowhere Near Hollywood

By Chris Brownsword.

Mark SaFranko, Nowhere Near Hollywood (Honest Publishing, 2019)

As we stagger towards 2020, the past decade can be summed up in the form of a fifties horror blurb: Things started off bad, and that was the best they got. Yep, 2019 has well and truly sucked. Every news item seemed to manifest itself like an ambush predator, devouring that last morsel of hope for our species which, beyond all sanity and reason, a few still clung to. And just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse, along came Hollywood, blasting into this fractured dimension like the Lovecraftian monster at the end of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, splattering its entrails and faeces over the world in the form of — drum roll — Hobbs and Shaw, the latest instalment of the godawful Fast & Furious franchise (and yes, I’ve seen them all, and yes, one lonely and desperate night I’ll most likely end up watching Hobbs and Shaw, too).

Meanwhile, in the shadows cast by the glare of Tinseltown, something has stirred, as Mark SaFranko drops the latest in the misadventures of struggling New Jersey novelist Max Zajack. Nowhere Near Hollywood sees Zajack attempting to break into the movie business as a way of drawing attention to his mounting pile of unpublished novels. With the blessing of his saintly wife Gayle, Zajack enters the industry at the very bottom. Sure, the odds are against him, but he nonetheless sets out with a degree of enthusiasm for landing a role in something of artistic value: ‘I’d always admired Bergman…Just when you thought all movies were cow manure, you caught Fanny and Alexander or Summer With Monika or Winter Light … He was the only filmmaker who made me feel I wasn’t wasting my time in a dark theater.’ Instead of working alongside a director such as Bergman, he winds up in a series of bad tatste TV commercials and no-budget trash that even the mighty John Waters would steer clear of. Unable to catch his one lucky break, Zajack inhabits ‘the intersection at which hope and dreams die,’ while chronicling those ‘lost souls on the margins.’

Aside from his talent for pared down, no bullshit prose, SaFranko deserves credit on two accounts. Firstly, his early Zajack novel Lounge Lizard addressed male anxiety and depression long before mass media channels drew attention to the issue this year. Secondly, his great 2014 crime novel, The Suicide, featured a sympathetic portrait of a transgender police officer. Nowhere Near Hollywood is similarly noteworthy for the manner in which it critiques fame, or at least the desire to become famous, a mania which our technological age exacerbates via social media. Of the people he works alongside, Zajack notes: ‘I’d hear them warbling and shouting, declaiming and emoting, venting their spleens, spilling their guts in the frantic hope of being seen and heard by an invisible audience that doesn’t know its ass from a hole in the ground, yet will sit in judgement of them. What sense did it make? Were we all so desperately needy?’ He later attributes some of the problem to society itself, for making ‘you feel like you were nothing if you weren’t a cheap celebrity on the cover of People.’

Spoiler alert! Zajack doesn’t wind up on the cover of People. He doesn’t even come close. Yet far from Hollywood as he finds himself, Zajack remains near to the action on the street; and as Henry Miller asserted, that’s where truth is to be found. ‘The truth is usually a sad thing,’ Zajack finally concedes, ‘but it’s often very, very funny too.’ Indeed, the novel ends with laughter, Zajack’s and Gayle’s, who together have found a simple joy, the kind that seldom greets those ‘fortunates’ hitting the big time.




Chris Brownsword was born in Sheffield, England. Recent poetry and fiction reviews have appeared in Riggwelter, Tentacular/Elsewhere, Now Then, and 3:AM Magazine. His Word Riot review of Mark SaFranko’s 2014 crime novel, The Suicide, has been quoted in a critical study by Heather Duerre Humann, at Florida Gulf Coast University

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, November 22nd, 2019.