L.A. Candy: First It’s Sour, Then It’s Sweet

la-candyL.A. Candy, Lauren Conrad’s first novel, is a book that raises all sorts of important questions. For example, what exactly is “just the right amount of sexy stubble”? What qualifies as “off-the-charts SAT scores”? What is the appropriate attire to wear with a microphone?

In the proud tradition of Jack Kerouac, James Joyce, and Philip Roth, Conrad’s first novel is semiautobiographical: The story follows Jane Roberts as she moves to L.A. to fulfill her dream of becoming an “events planner,” and on the way gets cast as the star of a reality series.

Those looking for a true roman à clef, however, may be somewhat disappointed. While there are clearly some analogs that a seasoned viewer of The Hills cannot miss (“Jesse Edwards”=Brody Jenner, “Hannah”=Whitney, “Fiona Chen”=Lisa Love/Kelly Cutrone) there are no real Heidi or Spencer counterparts and the book isn’t really a thinly veiled tell-all of the “juicy secrets” behind the show.

The most revealing section of the book in that respect may be the Acknowledgments page where, in addition to thanking her “collaborator” Nancy Ohlin, Conrad thanks her “best friends”: Maura, Lo, Jillian, Natania and Britton….Now, I know Lo, but who the hell are those other four?! Eighty percent of Lauren’s BEST FRIENDS are people who I’ve never seen on TV before?  

It is understandable that Conrad is not interested in revealing more details of her personal life; she just wants to tell a story. At times, however, this can be quite frustrating. Filming of the show-within-the-book (called, naturally, “L.A. Candy”) doesn’t even start until after the first 100 pages. Reading those pages has kind of a “get-on-with-it” feeling, like reading the first 75 pages of Crime and Punishment, before Raskolnikov kills anyone. (God, did I jut compare Lauren Conrad to Dostoevsky? That was unintentional.)

Those first 100 pages are very expository, as we are introduced to the novel’s other characters, including Scarlett, Jane’s best friend, Braden, Jane’s love interest, and Trevor Lord, the Adam Divello of the novel, who casts Jane and Scarlett for PopTV and runs the show (get it? His name is “Lord” because he controls everything). Some of these character introductions are awkward, as the writing tends to err on the “tell” side of the show/tell ratio. When Jane and Scarlett meet Diego, or “D”, a friendly personal assistant, for example, this exchange occurs:

“Oh, double F. It’s the boss lady. I’ve gotta bail, sweets, or she’s going to serve my private parts on a sushi platter at her dinner party tonight.” 

Jane giggled. D was one of the funniest guys she’d ever met. He was quick and sassy, but friendly.

Conrad also spends a disproportionate amount of the book on physical appearances: height, makeup, hair color, clothing, stubble-lengths, hairstyles. We are constantly reminded that certain characters look “cute” or “hot” or “awesome,” particularly Scarlett, who is quite the stunner.

Scarlett may also be the most interesting character in the book. She, of the aforementioned “off-the-charts SAT scores,” has no (apparent) Hills counterpart and is, as far as I can tell, my ideal woman. Besides excelling at standardized tests, she speaks four languages “passably,” reads Gabriel García Márquez in the original Spanish and has a coffee mug of her “favorite philosopher” René Descartes (granted, he’s probably not in my top ten, but nobody said dating fictional characters was going to be easy). Plus, she picks up a one-night stand in the beginning of the novel because she saw him reading James Joyce in a used bookstore. I have wasted countless hours of my life pretending to read used books, hoping this would happen to me.

Filming the show, however, throws a slight wrench into Scarlett and Jane’s friendship. While Jane is more or less happy to be caught up in the reality TV lifestyle, Scarlett is less pleased, worrying about “what Catherine McKinnon” (sic) would have to say about the media manipulation of the girls and getting upset when the show implies things that didn’t actually happen.

Said manipulation is something Conrad deals with rather frankly. People spend an inordinate amount of time wondering how “real” The Hills is and pointing out how much is staged, but for Conrad/Jane, that isn’t really relevant; she knows it’s staged, but of course it’s real.

There is a point in the book, after Jane gets an admittedly undeserved promotion from her suddenly-much-nicer-when-the-cameras-are-around boss, where a photographer asks her out on a date. After agreeing, Jane notices that he already has a release form from her producers, leading her to wonder how organic this date really is. No sooner than she thinks this, though, does she conclude that she doesn’t care; it’s just nice to have a date. She is too busy enjoying the what to worry about the why.

Not all manipulation, however, is as benign as setting her up with handsome photographers. When Lord finds out that Jane is falling for Braden, an aspiring actor who won’t sign a release, he actively impedes the relationship and sets Jane up with the much more camera-friendly Jesse Edwards. This causes a predictable love-triangle that leads to the novel’s scandalous climax.

The most interesting thing about the novel is the interplay (likely unintended) between Jane’s self-perception and her public image. The ostensible point of the novel is that reality TV is not the “whole story” and that viewers don’t know the “real Jane” (or the real Conrad). At the same time, though, the fact that Jane is “relatable” and “wholesome” and “innocent” and a “girl next door type” is hammered home repeatedly, before Lord and PopTV even enter the scene.

In other words, the things that make Jane a “celebrity,” are the same things that she views as fundamental parts of her personality. Certainly the conception of Jane/Lauren that a viewer of “L.A. Candy”/The Hills has cannot be complete, but it almost seems as if Conrad wishes it were.

Which, of course, actually does raise an important question: Do individuals actually want to be complex and unique, or would they rather be clichés?

One response to this post.

  1. […] we last left the loosely life-like literary creations of Lauren Conrad, they were deeply mired in controversy. Our heroine, Jane Roberts, had just slept with her […]

    Reply

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