Dressed for Excess

The neatness of the plot symmetry—Tull and Amaryllis as literal or figurative orphans searching for a parent, Trinnie and William mourning lost loves—isn't fatal on its own. But the book can't resist even the most gratuitous opportunity to make connections, and the narrative clots and loses momentum as the disparate characters are compulsively thrust together. Wagner trades social satire for cliché and sentimentality, all the while making uncomfortable, self-referential quips about the dangers of cliché and sentimentality.

In the same way, he makes uncomfortable, winking references to Proust. (While landscaping a garden that reminds her of Illiers-Combray, for instance, Trinnie confesses that she once stole a butter dish from the Proust Museum.) Enjoyable in small doses, Wagner's prose frequently wows the reader with its neo-goth grandeur and aerodynamics. But it's not the least bit like Monsieur Marcel's—not unless you can envision Proust on crystal meth.

Bruce Wagner, christened the bard of L.A. by the east coast literati
photo: Hedda Hogg/Villard
Bruce Wagner, christened the bard of L.A. by the east coast literati

The novel ultimately founders because, unlike In Search of Lost Time, I'll Let You Go is not a true bildungsroman. Tull is a young man and he does come of age eventually, but his character never deepens or expands through his experiences. The perfect Hollywood hero, there's less to him than meets the eye.

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