Search for Happiness by David Ritz
This tale of backstage doings in TV soap opera might have made a jazzily satiric entertainment--if someone had persuaded first-novelist Ritz to excise 150 extraneous pages, go easy on the gratuitous porn, and add some likability to narrator-hero A1 Gonfio. Tough, streetwise, whore-happy A1 is in his 40s and in his prime as head writer for TV's Search for Happiness. . . till a sleek network whiz-kid tries to fire him because the high ratings aren't high enough. A1 argues himself some time to improve the ratings, and his only hope is the new character he's come up with--Sister Prudence, a nun who falls in love--and the brilliant actress who's perfect for the part: gorgeous Anna Calzolari. (""That fucking horny nun is going to save us all."") But artistic Anna is uneasy about soap-opera work and in a funk about cruel actor-boyfriend John. So Al (who feels more than fatherly feelings) must become Anna's soulmate/confessor to keep her going on as Sister P.--and he happily acquiesces when Anna (now through with John and sleeping with preppy co-star Hanford) begins taking an active role in ideas for the show. Anna, however, isn't just interested; she's bonkers--as becomes apparent when she can no longer separate soap characters from real life, and when the network decision that Sister P. can't marry lawyer Brian sends Anna half around the bend. (She goes the other half when the script kills Brian off.) This scenario isn't very plausible, but it's workable as long as the tone is breezy; and Ritz does fine with the jogging network exec (""I'm talking about a scientific composite picture which is not very pretty""), the N.Y. showbiz ambience, and A1 and Anna's Italian backgrounds. Unfortunately, however, instead of letting the dubious plot race crisply by, Ritz loads it down--with unnecessary chunks of the dull soap itself, with tedious emotional rap sessions, and with paperback-porn sequences from sleazy Al's sleazy sex-life. Apparently unsure of whether he's writing a psycho-love story or gritty satire, Ritz tries for both, with murky and longwinded results; still, tolerant readers will find some earthy amusement along the way.