Desert Isle Keeper
How to Fake it in Hollywood
How to Fake It in Hollywood is an age-gap, fake-relationship contemporary romance début that delivers a Real Deal Romance packed into a slightly uneven story.
Grey Books (real name Emily) is a child actor-turned-teen TV star (think One Tree Hill) of moderate fame. At twenty-seven, after almost twenty years of work, she’s ready to reach the next level, headlining her own material and going after a role in Golden City, a major franchise à la Divergent. Ethan Atkins is the surviving half of Ethan Atkins & Sam Tanner, a Ben Affleck & Matt Damon-esque writing and acting duo that had major success, only for it to end when Sam died young. At thirty-eight, Ethan has spent the last half a decade drinking his way towards a bottom that he still hasn’t reached when How to Fake It in Hollywood begins. Grey and Ethan share a publicist who proposes a fake relationship to give Grey greater visibility and Ethan a positive reintroduction to the industry.
The first half of the novel really shines. We’re tucked into Grey and Ethan’s secret world with them, and it’s fun. Their romance is the—ahem—star of the show. Wilder does an especially good job conveying that je ne sais quoi that makes Ethan the kind of person people want to feature in movies and in their lives, no matter what. (It’s a hoot when he and Grey watch one of his old films, showcasing him in all his ripped glory, and he pretended to yell at his younger self. “Enjoy it, man, it doesn’t last.”)
The second half of the book, which rachets up the drama and shifts some of the focus off their relationship, has more of a burnished shine. Suddenly characters are making ominous pronouncements in one chapter and doom is coming to pass in the next, which is a little too on the nose. The story also manages to wedge in not one but two climatic low points. And because Ethan and Gray start doing things apart, tackling their non-romantic issues (her relationship with her mother, his career) without each other, the story loses the vibrant energy that their interactions bring to it.
One of the more unusual aspects of How to Fake It in Hollywood is its hero’s struggle with addiction. What’s especially interesting is that the story doesn’t begin with Ethan embarking on the fake relationship because he’s gotten sober and is trying to turn over a new leaf. The story handles his addiction somewhat unevenly – in the first half it functions as a subtle but palpable seasoning to all events (Grey is floored the first time Ethan kisses her, while he barely remembers it), but in the second half it grows so substantially and abruptly that the consequent drama feels forced and inorganic.
The ending, which sails firmly towards the HFN rather than the HEA horizon neatly skirts the big questions – Who is Ethan as a sober person? How do he and Grey balance the reality of his recovery with the fact that she (a consistent substance user herself throughout the book) will not be joining him in his sobriety? It’s hopeful but a bit of a cop out. That said, Ethan and Grey are sympathetic enough, and their love story so compelling, that it’s easy to imagine a duology in which book two answers those questions. I’d definitely read it.