Meanwhile, in California… Lightning People Release Party @ The Soho House

1. I made sure to take in the lights of the view, because even though this was my first literary release party, Bollen’s editor Dan Smetanka assured me this was about the flashiest I’d likely ever see. 2. Bollen’s publisher at Counterpoint Press, Charlie Winton, Dan Smetanka, and the publicist for the event, Julia Drake. After attending the book’s other release parties in Miami and NY, Dan smiled and toasted, “To breathing Bel Air.”

I’ve never felt underdressed walking into an elevator before, but that’s how I felt as I rode up to the Soho House. My baggy cargo pants surrounded by crushed, black velvet curtains, I was immediately out of my element. Christopher Bollen, author of Lightning People, has a day job serving as the Editor-in-Chief of Interview magazine, so he knows how to throw a party. Suit jackets, rotating hors d’oeuvres, and Kate Bosworth — but where’s the Charles Shaw, where’s the rickety podium? As I took in my surroundings with Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” providing a more than appropriate soundtrack, I realized I was again in the kind of LA crowd that made me wish I had a side job selling beard trimmers.

1. The strapping first-time novelist himself. He came from Ohio to go to college at Columbia, where he struggled to support himself by waiting tables. As Joseph says in the prologue: “Many of us came to New York to get away from the stories of our childhoods, hoping here they would no longer apply.” 2. From LA to Manhattan, lightning is never far away.
3. Critic Morgan MacGregor, after I asked her to think about her boyfriend, who she described as Leonardo DiCaprio circa 1997 — post-Gilbert Grape, somewhere between Basketball Diaries and Marvin’s Room.

Their bellies filled with chocolate-covered strawberries and juicy Belvedere sea breezes, the crowd started to thin around midnight. I was on my fourth round when I met Charlie Winton, Lightning People’s publisher, and remembered this was a literary event — after all, Skylight Books was there selling copies. He said that though the novel’s first character, Joseph, sets events in motion with his marriage to Del, there is no real lead, and the relationship, at times, fuels more problems than it solves. Bollen creates a web, a multi-cultural, inter-connected picture of New York that brings as much danger as it does epiphanies for each character. Its disillusioned, thirty-something transplants struggle with love and fear in a post-9/11 culture that proves that anyone can be touched as easily as they can be struck by lighting.

The first pages expose a pattern of mid-westerners who ran towards the hype of the big apple, “Scrounging for jobs or fame.” Charmed by the newness of thunderstorms, they died by lighting on rooftops just as it seemed they were settling in. “They had all been struck by a single bolt that ripped the shoes off their feet & melted the coins in their pockets.” A haunting, dark paranoia looms over the book- the kind that comes to those who are vulnerable and want to know that, somehow, everything is under control. It’s like wishing there was a note tied to the brick that came through the window. “There is a pattern that runs through generations, a conspiracy in the blood stream that kills with perfect timing.”

1. When the drink menu is in a small, tasteful frame, you know you’re in for a classy night. When that drink menu is for an open vodka bar, like it was here, you know your classy night is going to end a little sloppy. 2. The penthouse was lit by small candles, low-watt, retro chandeliers, and blinding camera flashes — much like this one.

When I talked to Bollen, I tried to compare the shadow of LA to the shadow of NY, saying that people who move here are usually half-drugged on the sunny facade Hollywood creates and maintains for itself, but he corrected me. He said LA is a one industry town, drawing mostly those who want to be involved with or around film, and that NY is anything but, having disparate communities of everyone from actors and artists to day traders. “I began writing LP at a time…when the city itself was starting to turn for me from a dream of possibility to something of a nightmare. Obviously that is a symptom of getting older, of not being infinitely and immortally in your twenties anymore. But, I think more specifically in New York, I was beginning to feel the repercussions of living without safety nets or supports. We come here as loners and we pride ourselves on that step and then suddenly, as we get older, we realize that there may be a reason why one should live near their family, why it isn’t always best to chuck the past and start over, etc.”

Bollen writes like a traumatized romantic, wanting to believe in and channel the energy of the illusion as much as he wants to shatter it. He made me wonder if I’ll, someday, be another moth that flies towards the glow of NY, hoping it will change me. I’ve thought about it for years, but now I know that if I do, I’ll still be left with myself.

***

–David Ohlsen, an LA native, is a thoughtless product of UC Riverside’s Creative Writing program and is a regular contributor to Electric Dish.

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