tampabay.com

'Zeroville' focuses on protagonist's fixation with films

Hundreds of movies are intertwined with an offbeat man's life and dreams in Steve Erickson's novel.


Published December 16, 2007


 

Zeroville
By Steve Erickson
Europa Editions, 329 pages, $14.95 

- - -

Guy comes to Hollywood, stranger in town, same week the Manson gang murders Sharon Tate at Roman Polanski's house. He has a smoldering Elizabeth Taylor-Montgomery Clift encounter from A Place in the Sun tattooed on his shaved head.

Guy walks into a diner, meets a stranger who admires the tat. They get along fine - until guy finds out the fool thinks the images are Natalie Wood and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Guy bashes fool with his lunch tray and stalks out. What's not to like?

The George Stevens classic is the first of hundreds of movie references in Steve Erickson's novel Zeroville that play out in numbered short takes. Our fugitive from a Middle America divinity school calls himself Vikar, a willful misspelling of the word vicar. When Vikar was small his dad mistook him for Isaac and, as Abraham, almost sacrificed him in the middle of the night.

Vikar is haunted by dream images inextricably mingled with the gazillion movies running on a loop behind his weird eyes. Taking off from poet T.S. Eliot, Erickson suggests that in movies, as in life, "Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past."

In short, like the movies in his imagination, Vikar's life is on a loop. Described as "cineautistic," he builds sets, moves on to be an editor and emerges as the default director of a cult classic.

Vikar falls for Soledad, a heartless actor who solves babysitting problems by locking her daughter in the car. It's a doomed pairing because for all he knows about the movies, Vikar doesn't know much about life. Never mind. His central obsession has nothing to do with Soledad.

He finds his dream in one frame of an old movie and in a search that takes him through other old prints frame by frame. Anybody who has seen even half the movies Erickson references will love this novel in spite of the narrative murk at the end.

Kit Reed's recent novels include "The Baby Merchant" and "Thinner Than Thou."