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The Assistants

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Michaela is a minor actress who supports herself as assistant to fading sitcom star Victoria Rush. Victoria retreats from her decline through prescription drugs, trying to ignore the infidelities of her much younger husband. Rachel, a starry-eyed new arrival from Texas, performs the most menial tasks for Victoria, who calls her Rochelle, while dreaming of attending film school.

Griffin is assistant to the manager of Victoria and Travis Trask, a nineteen-year-old movie star who lives an out-of-control existence until the arrival of his ex-convict older brother. Griffin hates his boss and pretends to be gay as a means of getting ahead. Kecia, daughter of a jazz legend, tries to keep Travis out of trouble while stuffing herself with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Jeb, a would-be screenwriter, is fired by the sleazy agent having an affair with Michaela. Jeb’s status is made more complicated by his love for the agent’s beautiful, perfect wife.

Initially, Robin Lynn Williams’s debut novel is satirical, a gleeful Evelyn Waugh-like take on the egos and excesses of the Beverly Hills set. Gradually, the protagonists become more distinctive and likeable, especially Griffin and Kecia, and The Assistants is less a morality tale than a fairy tale, leading to a happy ending more akin to a made-for-television movie than real life.

Williams’s milieu may seem old news to readers of Bruce Wagner’s much darker Hollywood novels or viewers of such HBO series as Larry Sanders, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Entourage, but Williams, a former assistant herself, has a good eye for details, as with Victoria’s addiction to ordering unneeded items from infomercials, and creates mostly believable characters. Rachel remains a caricature, her success as a screenwriter hardly credible. Nevertheless, The Assistants is an entertaining romp.