Mostly at the moment I'm dealing with a book launch (3/24 Night Night, Sleep Tight!) and still basking in a starred PW review: "Old Hollywood glamour, scandals, and lies infuse this captivating thriller set in 1985." All righty!
If you're curious about the new book, and I hope you are desperately so, there's an excerpt in Facebook -- a generous first three chapters.
Today I'm reviving another outtake from Night Night. Its OUT file is longer than the book. That's because the book began life as a quasi memoir about growing up in Beverly Hills and it took me forever to find the story and peel away the bits that didn't work. I'm hoping its OUT file will be the gift that keeps giving.
Here's one bit that got peeled away: channeling memories from 1964 when I was sixteen and going to weekly “games” in the San Fernando Valley run by Synanon, the drug rehabilitation commune founded by charismatic Charles Deidrich. They called their technique for breaking down the defenses of drug addicts “attack therapy,” and their star pupils ran games for “straights” (non addicts) which included a fair number of idealistic teenagers from well to do homes. That's where I came in.
I used my experiences as the basis for this scene in which two teenagers reminisce about what happened twenty years earlier at their first Synanon game.
I stopped going to games after a rumor went around that one of the straights had gone home and tried to kill herself.A Memory of Synanon"Remember our first game?" Joelen asked."I do," Susan said. "It was right in here. All there was in the room was a circle of folding chairs.""And not enough of them.""Never enough."Susan's group had filed in, only to find that several people had nowhere to sit. Turned out that was deliberate, just another part of the manipulative "game." How people reacted -- who offered to share or stand, express hurt or outrage -- was, in fact, very revealing.It was just one of the many ways that Raoul, the charismatic young Latino and former drug addict from Synanon, manipulated the group. She could still see him, sitting there, superior and smug, a petty tyrant surveying his serfs as he gazed around the circle at the rest of them, many of them tender young straights like Susan and Joelen from left-leaning, comfortable families."What are you thinking?" Joelen said, jolting Susan from her reverie. "I recognize that look.""Do you?" Susan said.Joelen gave her a knowing smile. "I didn't used to know what it was but now I'd call it contempt.""I was remembering Raoul.""Good old Raoul.""He ran that first game, didn't he?""He goes, 'Who wants to start?' And I'm like, such an idiot." Joelen waved her hand. "Pick me, pick me!"Susan hadn't remembered that -- she'd only remembered how uncomfortable she'd felt, worried that someone would make her go first. But now it came back to her, how Joelen had jumped right in, fearless as always, and blurted out how unhappy she was. Her father was dead. She hated school. Her mother's boyfriend was a creep.When she told them that her mother was an actress they were merciless. Poor little rich girl!"Remember that bitch?" Joelen said. "The one who said she was a receptionist in some plastic surgeon's office? Said I reminded her of the snotty women who came sailing into their office with their daughters in tow for mother-daughter nose jobs. I had my issues, but until that moment I'd never had a problem with my nose."Susan remembered that moment vividly. Something about Joelen had touched a nerve in that woman. She came uncorked, releasing all the vitriol she must have stored up being polite, day after day, to patients for whom she had only contempt. She was beyond mean, and of course it had had nothing whatsoever to do with Joelen.Still, with Raoul egging her on, the woman soon had Joelen in tears. The group quickly moved from Joelen's wealth to her body, honing in like a pack of feral dogs.Do you always dress like that? the woman had asked. Joelen wore a loose fitting butterfly blouse with fluttery elbow-length sleeves.What are you hiding in there? one of the men asked, and everyone snickered.Does your body make you uncomfortable? Raoul said, because it sure looks like you're hiding in there. What are you afraid of?Joelen had folded her arms in front of her. Cleavage bunched up in the V-neck of her blouse. Her look said, Stop looking at me. All of you.Even now, with the meanness twenty years in the past, Joelen's eyes brimmed with tears. "He said I craved attention. That's why I made myself look like a slut."Joelen had screamed back at him that she was not a slut. Why would he say that? But that was the trap he must have hoped she'd fall into. He came back at her with something like What’s it like letting other people's judgments control you? What’s it like to live that lie every day?"But you know, he was right," Joelen said. "Remember, he asked me what I was thinking about myself, right then at that moment."It was a moment Susan would never forget."I hate you," Joelen whispered, echoing the words she'd said at the time.But no, Raoul couldn't leave it at that. He'd had to pin Joelen to the wall. Say it again. Say it so we can hear you. He wasn't satisfied until Joelen's face was red, her eye makeup smeared down her face, snot running from her nose, and she'd worked herself up to the point that she was hitting herself and screaming I hate you hate I hate you I hate you! You're fat. You're pathetic. You're dumb. You're ugly."I couldn't stand it," Susan said. "They were being so awful. I was desperate to get out of there. But I couldn't leave you there. You needed someone on your side. Remember what happened next? He said you were beautiful."Sitting next to Joelen that night, Susan had felt the heat rolling off her body. Yes, she was a crybaby, Joelen admitted. A loser. Fat. A slob. Yes, she was beautiful. At that point she'd have said anything Raoul wanted her to say.That was how "the game" worked. They were experts at tearing you apart but way out of their depth when it came to stitching you back together.
So what sketchy activities did everyone else get up to in their teens?