Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: American Rhapsody

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, December 29, 2012

“Jack Nicholson liked Bill Clinton a lot, better than he even liked Fidel Castro, almost as much as he liked Robert Evans, who kept Jack supplied with endless boxes of windup dolls, misty, vacant-eyed midwestern farm girls who’d come to Hollywood to be stars and who were now on the hairy, varicose first leg of that trip.”

A fascinating exercise in self-deception and Hollywood bias.

RecommendationSpecial Interests Only
AuthorJoe Eszterhas
Length432 pages
Book Rating3

Joe Eszterhas wants to be Hunter S. Thompson, but he’s not. He fills American Rhapsody with wild rantings, and then offsets it with wilder rantings from his “darker side”, meant to make his rantings seem more truthful.

Some of it rings true, such as when he talks about Hillary Clinton strategizing her husband’s political resurrection. Some of it rings false, such as when he implies that he smoked thai with Sharon Stone—who he created, he tells us, since he wrote Basic Instinct—and then had sex with her by her dollhouse drinking Cristal. Hell, it’s Hollywood, it easily could have happened, but it sounds like a high school student making up a story about the prom queen.

Unlike Thompson, there is no greater meaning to the wild rant, no greater truth illuminated by the semi-truths and complete fabrications. He’s a Hunter Thompson for Hollywood.

He has little in the way of introspection. With one hand he can write about how ridiculous it is for conservatives to think the media is out to get them. With the other he can write things like “There were a few people in Hollywood so far out on the radical Left that they smiled when Ronald Reagan was shot.” Eszterhas himself wanted to do a movie in the Clinton years excoriating the “resurgence of right-wing militias” as racist and anti-Semitic. He refused to make his villains more human when asked to to improve the story.

And then with his third hand he masturbates in public. Toward the middle of the controversy he writes an entire chapter on Clinton’s habit of masturbating rather than completing the sex act. Clinton, he writes, could have “freed men and women everywhere from the disdain and prejudice they were victims of.” Instead, Clinton skulked away like PeeWee Herman did, “ashamed of what he’d been caught doing—what most of us had sometimes done—in that theater.”

He also goes back and forth here between talking about “militant onanists” and “the awesome and vast silent majority”, between “them” and “us” as if he rewrote this section poorly perhaps after realizing that maybe the “vast majority” of Americans have not masturbated in public, and would definitely be ashamed to be caught doing so.

Among all the faux-gonzo, the weirdest story, to me, is that according to Eszterhas Monica Lewinsky learned how to please President Clinton by reading Gennifer Flowers’s book about their affair. I knew that there had been accusations before, at the time. I don’t recall knowing that at least one of the accusers had already had a book out about it.

Another thing I didn’t know—so I guess I learned something from the book—is that the Starr report also said “They engaged in oral-anal contact as well.”

Can you imagine the media leaving that out of the news if, say, it had been a Republican’s scandal instead of a Democrat’s?

The most interesting parts are the quotes at the top of each chapter from the Linda Tripp tapes. It makes Monica Lewinsky sound like a normal twenty-something having an affair with an older married man who will never leave his wife and job for her.

The most painful part is when he does a chapter on Bill Clinton as the first black president, done as a stereotypical rib-loving, jive-talking black male, italicizing to show he down, man. “Go into the ghet-to.”

He wrote it just like that. This is stinky demoporn with a varnish of half-hearted cynicism, grimly unfocused, not in the sense of being a butterfly but of a cameraman using gauze on an aging actor—which Eszterhas talks about toward the end when he gets to comparing Warren Beatty and Bill Clinton as two happy lechers. In that same section he talks about Jack Nicholson being saluted by Marines, “as marines everywhere did after A Few Good Men.”

I’m not sure Eszterhas understands the reason for that—Nicholson’s speech was supposed to be the speech of a villain, of an out-of-touch uncivilized ogre. But the writer did too good of a job understanding the warrior’s burden, and that speech is just about all anyone remembers from that movie. Eszterhas has his own version of that writerly cluelessness when he writes a diary from George W. Bush; he does fake diaries for all of the major characters in his telling, from Bob Dole to Bill Clinton’s penis to Hillary. All of them come off as whiny politicians, except Bush, who comes off as the only sane man in the book.

Well, if you can’t handle the truth, American Rhapsody probably makes a fun read.

American Rhapsody

Joe Eszterhas

Recommendation: Special Interests Only

If you enjoyed American Rhapsody…

For more about Clinton sex scandal, you might also be interested in Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine and Hillary Clinton and husband accused of sexual assault.