The Return of the Player
He appears at Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600, www.elliottbaybook.com. Free. 8 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 28.
By Michael Tolkin (Grove, $24) Never mind Louis B. Mayer or Darryl F. Zanuck, Bill Gates is the mogul everyone wants to be in this limp satiric update of Michael Tolkin's original 1988 novel (memorably filmed by Robert Altman with Tim Robbins as murderous producer Griffin Mill). Eighteen years later, the fat margins and big money have drained out of Hollywood, along with most of the fun and glamour. Mill is unhappily married to his second wife, allergic to Viagra, unsuccessfully raising three kids among two households, and feeling old and behind the curve at work. (Not that we should project any of that onto the author, noooo, because that would be wrong.) His only measure of self-worth is wealth, which he lacks, so Mill signs on as a futurist for an all-powerful mogul (Gates genetically spliced with Murdoch and Geffen). If Mill being locked in an empty office with a rocking chair to literally think a windfall idea into existence isn't ridiculous enough, the Talmudic dialogue and arch disquisitions Tolkin writes for these characters—all eschatology and narrative structure, self-aware pronouncements like, "I'm kind of a cipher, I know that"—will have you pressing fast-forward on your remote. Except you can't. Damn these books that come without TiVo! Jumbling together various notions of Mormonism, Goth sex Web sites, proper child rearing, guilt (yes, there's another murder), private school payola, sexual transgression, and spiritual yearning, Return is little more than a pastiche of Tolkin's first novel and his films The New Age and The Rapture. Oh, and he's also obviously been reading Wired magazine along with his Torah studies. (There must be something sacred happening at Herb Allen's Sun Valley media tycoon retreats.) Instead of the next big movie or the end of days, he casts the Next Big Product in similarly ultimate terms (at least in Mill's debased estimation). Tolkin saves the book's one big joke—and perhaps future movie or TV series?—for the end, but only after dragging in Bill Clinton as a character. "Promiscuity can focus the senses, the faculties of mind and insight," the former president tells us. "Very few of the people who make a dent on history can get enough of such wisdom from only one bed." He's not excusing Mill's body count, of course, but amid The Return's leftover microwave theologies, this passing bit of bedroom advice almost sounds like profound political wisdom. BRIAN MILLER