Anyone who wanted the sordid details of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair is surely satisfied with the endless string of suck-and-tell books that followed the release of the Starr Report. But if any writer could claim a self-imposed mandate to dissect the whole story again, it would be Joe Eszterhas, the unvanquished king of Hollywood sleaze. Like Eszterhas' sex-soaked screenplays—including Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Sliver, and the stunningly execrable Jade—American Rhapsody is obsessively sensationalistic, centering on the sex act while reducing it to a self-absorbed transaction that degrades everyone involved. Here it all is, yet again, in lurid detail: Lewinsky's thong, Clinton's cigar, Tripp's tapes, Kenneth Starr's plodding prying, and a blow-by-blow (literally) account of Clinton and Lewinsky's time together in a White House hallway. As a journalist, Eszterhas makes no pretense of objectivity, saddling the major players in the vast right-wing conspiracy behind Clinton's impeachment with insulting nicknames early on, from Linda Tripp ("Ratwoman") all the way up to Richard Nixon ("The Night Creature"). And, while he excoriates Clinton for his stupidity, he also laments the fall of the "first rock 'n' roll president," the beloved show pony of the '60s generation. As a storyteller, Eszterhas attempts to shift the blame for his excesses from his own shoulders, claiming in the book's introduction that he did not actually write Showgirls, et al: They emitted from "the twisted little man inside me." The twisted little man manifests itself repeatedly throughout American Rhapsody, making snide comments (helpfully delineated in boldface, so readers don't mistake offensive gibes for journalistic observations) and presenting shallow, malignant diatribes, ostensibly from the mouths of the Clintons, Bob Dole, John McCain, George W. Bush ("Thanks to Bill Clinton's pecker, I'm gonna set myself in the Oval Office"), and many more. But Eszterhas neglects to introduce his other silent writing partners, including Eszterhas the arrogant Hollywood gossip who tells wandering stories about Warren Beatty and brags about "creating" Sharon Stone, Eszterhas the former Rolling Stone editor who writes personably and intelligently about Nixon's war on '60s youth culture and Clinton's iconic status as the anti-Nixon, and many more. Some of these Eszterhases have solid, significant points to make, while others are just playing with themselves in print. Unfortunately, they're all locked up together in the big, smutty literary sewer that practically everyone in America has already waded through to their hearts' content.

Advertisement