Cover image for Colors insulting to nature : a novel
Colors insulting to nature : a novel
Wilson, Cintra.
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Publication Information:
New York : Fourth Estate, 2004.
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350 pages ; 24 cm
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Look deep into your heart, Gentle Reader. Deep, deep, deep; past your desire for true love, for inexhaustible riches or uncontested sexual championship, for the ability to fight crime and restore peace to a weary world. Underneath all this, if you are a true, red-blooded American, you'll find the throbbing desire to be famous.

Liza Normal wants fame worse than air, food, sleep, or self-preservation. Her talents are slim, but she's been raised on a crash diet of Hollywood "I-can-do-it!" mythology, game-show anthems, and Love's Baby Soft-scented teen dreams. According to the delusional logic inherent in these value-starved sources, the key to Making It Big as a pop star is to simply want it badly enough and Believe in Yourself (and to follow the B-movie template for becoming one of life's golden winners -- see page 20). And so, innocent Liza's disco-ball fantasies are bowled down the yellow brick road, on a direct collision course with that whirling hall of hammers: Reality. She endures a wretched series of mishaps on the road to failure: disastrous love affairs, scorching humiliations. But Liza, a far better human than the two-dimensional starlet she thinks she wants to be, is indestructible.

In Colors Insulting to Nature, Cintra Wilson has fused ahilarious yet strangely touching coming-of-age story with a blistering satire of our celebrity-debased culture. In a world where unknowns compete to wear their ethical pants around their ankles on TV, where actors become presidents and plucky American Idols claw their way to stardom over the corpses of the dreams of a million wishful losers, Colors Insulting to Nature shocks us into seeing ourselves as we truly are, not as we think we look when we make that French pout face in the mirror. Not since John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Martin Amis's Money, or, yes, Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel has an antihero peeled away the lamination of our society with such savage glee and empathy. Laugh, cry, cringe with self-recognition: Colors Insulting to Nature is a brilliant achievement.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Salon0 columnist and author of A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Reexamined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease 0 (2000), Wilson is a dazzlingly eviscerating, hence, esteemed cultural critic. She now brings her scorn for our debilitating obsession with fame to a smart, hilarious, raunchy, and barbed coming-of-age epic and pop-culture romp. Set in the coked-up, Lycra-ed 1980s, Wilson's madly episodic first novel features the devilishly misnamed Normal family. Peppy, a former topless juggler in Reno for whom the movie Fame0 becomes a myth to live by, drags her saintly mother and twitchy children, Ned and Liza, to Marin County, where she stages a campy-beyond-belief production of The Sound of Music 0 that labels them all certifiable. Ned turns agoraphobic, while Liza, the novel's innocently trashy narrator, clings maniacally to her hopeless dream of being a diva. She goes punk, crashes and burns in San Francisco and Los Angeles (allowing Wilson to savagely parody the Goth scene and Hollywood's vicious strivings), and unexpectedly finds her calling as the creator of a dominatrix superhero. A blazing satirist, Wilson dramatizes with gleeful precision and compassionate authority the toll of schlocky Technicolor fantasies, and wryly celebrates all that is human. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Playwright and Salon columnist Wilson made a name for herself four years ago with her essay collection, A Massive Swelling. In her raucous, hilarious debut novel, she covers similar ground: the ugly side of fame and America's unhealthy obsession with celebrity. The dark Gen-X fairy tale follows the adventures of Liza Normal, a would-be starlet with far more ambition than looks or talent. Saddled with a frightening stage mother, Peppy, Liza-"not a girl ruled by the logic of self-preservation"-endures humiliation after humiliation as she acts in an unintentionally campy family musical, turns punk, dates a drug dealer and a washed-up boy band member, goes to rehab and tries unsuccessfully to make it big in Hollywood. The indefatigable Liza finally triumphs in Las Vegas, creating a stage show based on a character from the softcore slash fiction she's written throughout her travails. Wilson goes out on a limb with her verbal extravagance, and readers may find her post-Eggers postmodern asides to the audience (whom she calls "Young Readerlings") and fancy fonts a bit too-too. But her spirited sendup of celebrity worship is laugh-out-loud funny. Agent, Bill Clegg. (Aug. 13) Forecast: Wilson's public persona is as flamboyant as her writing, and the novel should garner plenty of media attention, though it may be a more challenging sell than A Massive Swelling. Five-city author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Fresh from cult success with the essay collection A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease, columnist Wilson delivers a related first novel. Colors follows Liza Normal from her first excruciating pop star auditions under the guidance of her ambitious mother, Peppy, to her realization that success has many guises, most of which are not found in Hollywood. This formula fits her brother, Ned, a reclusive artist who inadvertently gains fame, and Peppy, whose disastrous forays into theater and men finally work out. Like Blake Nelson's Girl, this work is a giddy and poignant crash course in growing up, complete with sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. Wilson has a loose and overstated writing style, which when she maintains the novel's breakneck speed has hilarious and clever results. Ironically, it is when she reverts to her essayist self, inserting her own voice and lengthy exegeses on pop cultural landmarks, that the pace lags. In those ponderous moments we almost lose sight of our quirky heroine, who (refreshingly) is anything but. Recommended for most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/04.]-Prudence Peiffer, Cambridge, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Colors Insulting to Nature A Novel Part I: Are You There, God? It's Me, Liza July 23, 1981, Novato,CA The faces of the judges revealed, although they were trying to hide it, deep distaste for the fact that the thirteen-year- old girl in front of them had plucked eyebrows and false eyelashes. Something about her well-worn miniature stiletto heels and her backless black evening dress-side slit up to the fishnet hip, with rhinestone spaghetti straps-was unsavory to them. The girl looked way too comfortable. Equally unsettling was her performance. ". . . and now, I'd like to perform a little something by someone who has been a huge influence on my work. This lady has the most incredible pipes in the business. I'm speaking, of course, of Ms. Barbra Streisand. Vincent?" she asked, addressing the horrified pianist, who was busying himself with the mosaic of colorful buttons on his Yamaha DX-7 that promised such sounds as "oboe" and "tympani." "Could you give me 'Clear Day' in F, sugar? You're too good to me." The child took the microphone and Cher-ishly flipped back a long strand of zigzag crimped hair with fuchsia fingernails as the pianist rolled into the opening bars. Her vibrato, though untrained (learned, most likely, by imitating ecstatic car commercials) was as tight, small, and regular as the teeth on pinking shears. "On a Cleee-yah Daaaaaaaaaaayy T'Wheel Asssssh-TOUNDYewww . . . thank you," she spoke, as if the judges had just broken into spontaneous applause. The mother, visible mouthing the lyrics from the wings in an exaggerated fashion, was clearly responsible for this travesty, this premature piano-bar veteran of a youngster. "Yew can sheeeee Fah-REVAH, ond EVAH." The moderately talented girl was emoting with her hands, seemingly tweezing the adult male heart out of its sexual prison with her kitten claws, all too professionally. The judges squirmed in their seats, intensely disliking the thought of their own daughters or nieces belting out a song in this seamy, overwrought fashion-parroting the stage acts of overripe chanteuses, moist with the rot of numerous alcoholic disappointments in both Love and Life. The mother would probably be devastated if her child didn't land the gig . . . she might, in fact, lock herself in an all-peach-colored bedroom and wash down handfuls of muscle relaxants with cheap Polish vodka from a plastic handle-jug; her unfortunate daughter would be left for days without milk and forced to eat lipstick. It was this thought that brought large grimaces of feigned appreciation to the faces of the judges as the girl collapsed into the bow as if she'd just wrung every drop of hot life out of herself and was now utterly spent. She blew a few kisses toward the judges and urged them to "give themselves a hand." The mother, whose diaphanous, mango-colored pantsuit was trumped in visual loudness only by the Louis IV-style stack of conical curls on her strawberry-blonde wig, came forward and shook the girl playfully. "Say goodbye to the nice judges, Liza," she mewed. "Goodbye to the nice judges, Liza," the girl cracked, with a wink. "Go outside and amuse yourself while Mommy talks grown-up-talk." Liza pouted theatrically, then waved bye-bye to the group of middle-aged men as she wobbled on her heels out of the conference room. Seconds later Liza was visible through the one-way windows on the lawn of the industrial park, trying to swing on one of the large, nautically themed boat chains that roped off the parking lot. As she yanked one of the nagging rhinestone straps back up onto her porcelain doll-shoulder, the judges were petrified with worry that the miniature disco Lolita would be spotted from the freeway by a predator on a quest for this particular banquet of perversion, who would swoop down the on-ramp and yank the spangled child into a dirty van. The girl seemed blithely unaware of such dangers and, as evidenced by the trembling of her lower lip, was apparently singing again at top volume as she jerked back and forth on the heavy chain. Peppy Normal took a spread-eagled stand in front of the judge's foldout table with her hands on her hips. Her mouth unfolded into a glossed, yellow alligator-smile. "She nailed it, didn't she. You know she nailed it." "We have a lot of kids to see before we decide anything, Mrs. Normal." "Boys, for Chrissake, it's a TV commercial, not a goddamn Nobel Prize. Just cut to the chase and tell me: did she nail it, or what?" The colorless klatch of balding men looked at each other helplessly and squirmed in their orange plastic seats. The bravest among them spoke candidly. "The spokes-child that the OtterWorld Fun Park is looking for . . . how can I say this . . . we were maybe thinking of a kid who is a little less sophisticated." "You wanted Shirley Temple schtick? I thought you were looking for talent." Liza had given up trying to swing on the sunbaked chain and was now pressing her nose and forehead against the tinted window. Peering in, she could make out her mother violently gesticulating at the cringing group of men. Two of the judges glanced miserably out the window at her; her Nude Beige pancake makeup had made a small figure- 8-shaped smear on the smoked glass. Liza saw her mother grab her oversize, gold-buckled handbag and storm out of the room. Knowing her cue, Liza smiled and waved goodbye through the window again and tottered through the grass toward the car... Colors Insulting to Nature A Novel . Copyright © by Cintra Wilson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Colors Insulting to Nature by Cintra Wilson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.