In a mid-70s world fueled by amyl nitrate, cocaine and “celebrity sightings,” Trivers’ protagonist, a Manhattan bicycle messenger named Malcolm, describes a glimpse of Jackie O. crossing Madison Avenue: “Her jaw-line unmistakable even behind her over-sized shades...She deliberately swallowed her silvery celebrity aura as she disappeared anonymously into the oncoming pedestrian traffic.”
What a delicious juxtaposition of celebrity and anonymity. At the Holiday season on the snobby-shop part of Fifth Avenue, I once spied rock legend Steve Tyler in a cowboy hat and fringed jacket with a woman on either arm, one most probably his lovely daughter Liv. He was surrounded by a rush of Christmas shoppers, who were so preoccupied that no one but me noticed him crossing at the light. I shouted “Happy Holidays, Steve” above the scuffling bustle, and his smiling face reached out to find me. He tipped his hat and shouted the same back. No one else seemed to care and the flamboyant frontman, who once rode his Aerosmith hit “Walk This Way” to the top of the charts, got sucked into the oncoming pedestrian traffic like Jackie.
Anyway, Hush Money’s author Trivers goes on to write that in this “city of coincidence...a city so intuitively byzantine, you are constantly running into nobodies and somebodies.” And sure enough, his pauper bicycle messenger encounters a prince, a fictionalized “Jerry” Kennedy, who seems inspired by several Kennedys with their Achilles-heel penchant for getting into trouble, into drugs, and into the news. In this crash of different “bodies,” messenger Malcolm accidentally and furtively witnesses this fictionalized Kennedy doing something untoward — cue the sardonic and often hilarious mayhem that ensues.
Author James Trivers, who previously authored two young adult novels, Hamburger Heaven and I Can Stop Anytime I Want, also wrote a short story “History” which was turned into a feature film, Norma, Jean, Jack and Me, which also dealt with the Kennedy clan, in another speculative fashion. With Hush Money, Trivers cleverly taps again into the murky Kennedy mystique, explaining:
The Kennedy Family embedded itself in the collective unconscious of white America. Whether it be playing touch football on Thanksgiving, having extra-marital affairs, decorating one’s house, or dressing in a regal way. Because Jack Kennedy was so photogenic, he used television in a way no other president had before — as a means to almost being a guest in your own house, he ingratiated himself into your being. Several years ago, there was an auction of JFK's personal artifacts, and his rocking chair, humidor, and ballpoint pen went for astronomical amounts. The collectors were of my generation and older who were in the hopeless pursuit of trying to purchase their youth, as if you can actually buy back time. The early Sixties for the white suburban demographic like myself was an uber-era. Everything seemed possible. The future was a glorious prospect. Everything was supposed to be wonderful. Then he got shot.
As a sort of conduit between the nobodies and somebodies, messenger Malcolm has all sorts of brief celebrity encounters like with Lauren Bacall at The Dakota. Trivers says that in terms of culture, “Celebrity culture dictates that we, the spectators, internalize the celebrity. The Beatles did that, as they were not only accessible and hypnotic, but they were brilliant. Housewives across the country internalized Jackie O. Take for example, Mary Tyler Moore on the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ she has the same hairdo as Jackie.” And, as for his book’s theme, Trivers adds, “Even though we’re all conflicted and disjointed, we’re all connected, especially in the city of coincidences and serendipitous encounters which is what living in New York was all about.”
Hush Money is a breezy, can’t-put-it-down peek back into the “City of Coincidences.”
Rhodes’ darkly absurdist tale Offed presents a sociopathic serial killer, nicknamed “The Artist,” being elevated to the status of a twenty-first century folk hero. The underpinnings of this morality play will make you squirm because it strikes so close to home in our violent, celebrity-fueled times. The book also leans on the Kennedy mythology with the antihero, Birch Barr suggesting, “Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy. He said so and it was true. I’m convinced of that fact, and, believe me, I’ve read enough books on the subject to prove it. It was back in grade school that the JFK assassination first gripped my imagination...”
The character Barr, the serial killer in-the-making, also craves the seductive fix that celebrity offers:
The sad fact is that I just wanted to be famous. I didn’t have any particular talent, but I longed for popularity, more than anything else. I wanted people to like me, but from a distance...Fame, just like the song says. I wanted to be well known. If you go to wondering about why we’re here, why we exist, fame seems to be the best answer to the great question, you know. And I have a birthright to notoriety, because of the American dream and all that stuff. I wanted to make my mark, to live forever. To be famous. That’s when I decided to murder somebody... In today’s world, killing people isn’t enough because there are so many murders, most of them forgotten before they ever get known. So you have to carve out a unique persona. Don’t sell the steak; sell the sizzle.
Birch starts assassinating the “right" kind of people — or rather, the “left” kind of people — liberal radicals and politicians. And, when an ultra-conservative talk-show host turns him into a celebrity, The Artist is born.
Yippee ki-yay, indeed.