The apple—no longer content to merely serve as pie filling, after-school snack, or means of keeping the doctor away—once again presides over a fall from grace in Eric Bogosian’s second novel,
Wasted Beauty. On weekends, siblings Billy and Reba Cook drive from their failing upstate farm to hawk their Empires and Winesaps at the Union Square Greenmarket. When a handsome stranger buys an apple and then returns to sample lissome Reba’s other wares, the farm girl wakes from her virginity-losing one-night stand and finds herself alone. Adrift on the streets of New York, she’s quickly discovered by a fashion photog (a McDonald’s substitutes for Schraft’s) and thrust into the world of top modeling.
A creator of remarkable performance pieces, Bogosian has spent most of his career depicting men in angsty extremis. He lent voice and no small amount of compassion to the obstreperous, the unpalatable, the sorts that make you eye the seat next to them on the subway and decide you’d really rather stand. His attempts to narrate the head and heart of Reba, “the most beautiful girl in the world,” meet with decidedly less success. Perhaps Bogosian means to argue that beauty renders Reba opaque, that those who would possess her dispense with or efface her personality. But should she be such a cipher to the author as well?
The author fares far better with the mentally unstable Billy and with Rick, the married GP who obsesses over Reba. Phil, indulgent and self-loathing, fixated on sex and material goods, would be the more obvious protagonist. But while Rick is allowed any number of soliloquies (many of them very funny), he’s never quite offered the lead role, either. Consequently, a book that might have had as hard a core as any Bogosian solo show must suffer a decidedly mushy center.