The Guest

This is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. To the point where I constantly had to stop reading it, even though I was enjoying it, it just heightened my anxiety and made me squirm.

But it’s not horror, it’s not a thriller. Ostensibly it’s about the lives of the different classes, but what it’s really about is desperation. Desperate people do desperate things.

You can live your whole life and not know this. Used to be we were all in it together, you interacted, lived with people of different classes. Now, not only do the wealthy live behind gates and fly private, they have a gravy train of education and professional life that keeps them financially secure, but separate. The truth is they’ve got no idea how the rest of the world lives.

You can see that as a put-down. And that’s a big part of the book. How the wealthy have people who do the hard stuff for them, deliver bad news as well as clean up, but that was not news to me. I know these people.

But I also know the desperate. I must admit, at times in my life I’ve been desperate myself.

When you’re broke you’ll cross lines you would never think of stepping over previously. And then there is moral background. Your morals go out the window when you’re starving, when you’ve got no money, no portfolio. But you’ll also find everybody didn’t grow up with the same background as you. Not everybody’s parents stayed together and watched over your education. Not everybody has parents they can reach out to in a pinch, for money, never mind shelter. And then there are the children who burn so many bridges that their parents cut ties, wanting nothing to do with them.

And when you’re a woman and you’re broke…

Yes, that’s how Alex earns her living. But selling your body and your soul is work, and it’s not always lucrative. And then you end up owing people money, you become a pariah, and even in an overpopulated city like New York word gets around.

But there’s always another mark. Assuming you can hang in there while you jump from one to another. It’s like jumping from stone to stone in a fast-paced river. If it all goes according to plan, you get to the other side and forget about the journey. But if you misstep… You’re caught in the maelstrom and may not survive. And you don’t have the luxury of planning, you’re living by your wits, you’re constantly on guard.

Now Emma Cline wrote a well-regarded book entitled “The Girls.” It’s basically a retelling of the Manson story. Well-written, but that doesn’t show a hell of a lot of innovation in my mind. But “The Guest”…

I’ve never read a book quite like “The Guest.” Because I know people like this.

In truth, people trade on their looks and adjust their behavior to their benefit all over the world, but it’s especially prevalent in Hollywood, where even if you have a portfolio it doesn’t usually pay dividends. People come from across the country, the globe, to make it in Hollywood. And if you’re good-looking, friendly and know how to fit in… You’ll be stunned how far you can go. Maybe not as far as you want to, to become a star, but you can be in the scene, it really isn’t that hard to penetrate. And you’ll encounter hustlers and…

That’s a lesson that takes years to learn in L.A. Who is real and who is full of sh*t. They all talk a good game. And the wayside is littered with the well-intentioned and the talented who could never figure out the game, who never needed it that bad. But there’s a whole ‘nother world of money and lifestyle underneath stardom that most people don’t see.

I’m not saying everybody is a lying, cheating scumbag. But you’d be surprised how many are.

This is not Harvard. Where you’ve got to jump through hoops to get there. Occasionally you hear about duplicitous people faking it, breaking the rules to get in without almost anybody noticing. And then we’ve got the Varsity Blues scandal… In truth, so many of the “rich and famous” are bending the rules, especially to benefit their children, many of whom are ungrateful anyway. But above that there’s a class where you know your place from birth, there’s a safety net. The path is delineated. And you follow it, or become a party person living an empty life and maybe even O.D.

But those people are meanderers. Bumping into trouble. I’m talking here about people who make choices. Who lie, cheat and steal not so much to get ahead, but to stay afloat. Not the homeless person on the street, but someone with a brain, who knows how to operate, but has no portfolio.

Oftentimes there are tells. The shoes. The clothing. But that assumes you’re looking. And those at the elite level are not, they’re trusting and this makes them vulnerable.

Now if you go to an elite institution, marry a classmate, get a professional job and send your kid(s) to private school, you’ll probably never run into someone like Alex. Or if you do, you won’t get caught up in their web, you’re too busy playing by the rules.

Now in truth “The Guest” is leading to…it’s not quite sure, and when you get there you’re so disappointed that it makes you feel bad about the whole book. Which is probably one reason it only has three and a half stars on Amazon. Just like you need more than an 80 on Rotten Tomatoes, you need four stars or more on Amazon for it to be worth your while. Of course there are exceptions… But this is how you evaluate whether a friend testifying about some artwork is credible, by matching their opinion with those of Amazon and RottenTomatoes. If they choose something with low ratings that is spectacular, you know they’re one to follow. But that’s very rare.

And in truth most people have lowbrow tastes. And they want entertainment.

“The Guest” is not entertainment, rather it’s life. You may think it’s not real but I know otherwise, because I know people like Alex. Intimately. I’ve been had by them. Because I could not conceive of what they would do.

They can. And you can be aware of it or…

You can watch “Ted Lasso” and think everything comes up roses.

It does not.

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