Gerald Gottlieb

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

Maia Wojciechowska is an extremely gifted writer. But in [The Hollywood Kid] it is painful to say, the excellence of her writing cannot mask the fact that what she is dishing out is specious, The Hollywood Kid is a stark little tale that begins at the bottom of despair and swiftly descends. Bryan Wilson, the 15-year-old only child of Hollywood's greatest movie queen, sits morosely beside his mother's huge swimming pool and asks: "Does life need to be so crummy?"

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Bryan and his one friend, a 12-year-old girl named Martha, are lonely, sophisticated, cynical, bright, world-weary kids, drenched in luxury but thirsty for emotional life, deprived not only of love but also of anything resembling a normal home. They are frightened, hypersensitive, withdrawn and thoroughly bewildered. Both kids are casualties of destroyed marriages and disordered family lives, and both suffer from indifferent, egotistical and usually absent parents. And when Bryan tries to go outside himself and cope with the world the results are either dismal or disastrous. Each time, he builds brave illusions that then are promptly smashed, leaving him bruised and reeling and hopeless. But Bryan suddenly realizes what life is all about and what he can do to reverse his downward spiral.

Yes, you did read it correctly: he Suddenly Realizes. It's meant to be uplifting, but in fact it's enough to make strong psychiatrists shudder. The idea that a kid as seriously troubled and alienated as this one can be redeemed in a miraculous flash of self-knowledge is (a) incredible and (b) simplistic and dangerous, for it holds out to questing adolescents a totally false and cruel hope. There is some similarity between the situation of Bryan Wilson and that of young Manolo, the bullfighter's timorous son, in Miss Wojciechowska's very well received earlier book, Shadow of a Bull. Both boys, their real selves obscured by the shadows of famous parents, are desperately pining for identities they can live with. But when the melancholy Spanish lad frees himself of guilt and fear and manages to take a step on his own, the author has laid some groundwork that makes the step reasonably believable for the reader. This is, alas, not at all the case with the Hollywood kid, who seems just about as doomed a boy at the end of his gloomy little story as he was at the beginning.

Gerald Gottlieb, "Growing Pains and Pleasures," in Book Week—The Washington Post (© 1966, The Washington Post), October 30, 1966, p. 28.∗

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