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Colors Insulting to Nature: A Novel Hardcover – August 10, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (August 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007154607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007154609
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,549,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Authors who write about the entertainment industry often extend promises of wit and edginess to attract an audience. Colors Insulting to Nature, by Salon columnist Cintra Wilson, delivers these qualities because it enters the fray not with a forgettably likeable protagonist predestined for a happy ending, but with an axe to grind. The object of Wilson's loathing is the "ego-porn" Hollywood that turns out formulaic story lines, making hapless, mediocre talents believe that their dreams of fame can somehow come true.

The central mediocre talent in this book is Liza Normal, who first appears in the story as an adolescent auditioning for a spot in a commercial. Imagine the child version of the Bette Midler character in Beaches and you're about halfway to understanding the tragic gaudiness of Liza's persona--though of course she is a sweet girl underneath it all. The novel follows Liza into adulthood, bringing other vividly drawn characters, including her shut-in brother, Ned, her narcissistic, alcoholic mother, Peppy, and a sadomasochistic dwarf named DelVonn along for the ride. Liza's cringingly funny attempts to win fame as an actress-singer never stop--and neither does Wilson's railing against the logic-corrupting, "ultimately demoralizing" messages from film and television that Liza has ingested from infancy. Will our heroine ever turn her life around and figure out that The Media made her do it? Will Wilson succeed in breaking free of formulas, or end up undercutting her own message with a fairy-tale ending? Readers who are drawn to darker comedies will enjoy finding the answers, and find this novel impossible to put down. --Leah Weathersby

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

She is such a funny, poignant and memorable writer.
Mary Lavers
That said, this is one of the funniest books I have ever read.
Lisa Brackmann
All I can say is, give thanks . . . read this book . . . now.
Sam Benjamin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Brackmann on August 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A full frontal assault against celebrity worship and its deletorious effect on the American psyche, "Colors Insulting to Nature" is not a perfect novel. There are a few too many authorial asides restating the theme - yes, we get that basing your life decisions on the movie "Fame" is not a path to personal happiness. That said, this is one of the funniest books I have ever read. The protagonists' staging of "Sound Of Music" is the best kind of parody - one done with affection and understanding of the source material - and had me laughing so hard that I nearly aspirated my burrito. Highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By booksforabuck VINE VOICE on December 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
While in a drunken depression, Peppy Normal discovers her life-path from the movie Fame. She'll enroll her children in the New York High School of Performing Arts--on their way to become celebrities. Their modest talent didn't matter--she'd incorporated the lessons of the movie deeply into her life. Unfortunately, that also meant inflicting them on her daughter, Liza. The first step toward New York was, perversely, in the opposite direction--to California. There Peppy opens the Normal Dinner Theater (where dinner was never served) and dresses pre-Freshman Liza like a tramp to take her to auditions and cattle-calls.

With this background, Liza grows up (to the extent her aging process can be called growing up) confused and waiting for that one magical break. A colony of elves teaches her to use drugs to help the breakthrough and she tries this. While her brother retreats into himself, Liza takes the opposite course, finally ending up in L.A. in an ultimate moment of degradation and humiliation. The one thing she finds that she can make money at has no appeal to her. She wants to be a famous singer--no matter how modest her talent.

Author Cintra Wilson teases the reader with author notes, and sends us on a roller-coaster rides of laugh-out-loud humor (certainly the performance of Sound of Music qualifies) and dark depression. The curse of fame and the easy myths that Hollywood perpetuates conspire to keep Liza from enjoying the few good things that do happen to her--there's always hope of that big break just around the corner.

Wilson's writing style is conversational, engaging the reader. Her characters are definitely over-the-top, but Liza's horrible high school experience will ring true with many readers, and who hasn't toyed with the notion that they are only a discovery away from being a star. COLORS INSULTING TO NATURE is a fascinating and highly readable novel. I recommend it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sardonica on November 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The profuoundly gifted Cintra Wilson is the Roland Spring of modern cultural criticism--"rare, supreme and without context, like a zebra born in an abandoned grocery store." Certain writers are so adept at language and acute in their observations on life, and the modern world, you find yourself unconsciously imitiating their form of expression--not because you want to steal their thunder but because their prose is so resonant and inspiring that it's subliminally altered your consciousness. Although very few can do it as gracefully and with such rapier wit as Wilson. I've only read a few essays from _A Massive Swelling_ previously, but I was similarly stunned at the breadth of her pop culture savvy and her strikingly original, eloquent and hilarious writing style. I was so sad when the novel ended, I'll need to begin reading the essay collection as soon as possible.

_Colors Insulting to Nature_ is a scathing yet deeply heartfelt story of a moderately, if unexceptionally, talented teen would-be chanteuse with ambitions of fame bordering on Faustian--willing, in effect, to sell nearly every molecule of self-respect she's been dubiously endowed with by her boozy, self-absorbed and delusional train wreck of a mother. Peppy Normal's parenting skills are questionable to say the least, but she does manage to pass on to Liza the legacy of dreams and values gleaned directly from sappy/"inspirational" movies, a masochistic bloodlust for attention in all its debasing forms, a desire to immerse oneself in the world of artifice, and a taste for garish eye makeup. A class-A vicarious-living stage mom, she tries to brutally impose the song-and-dance act on Liza's brother Ned, who is pathologically anxious, socially withdrawn and hopelessly uncoordinated.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Allen on September 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
i enjoyed this book for the most part--cintra wilson can write amazingly funny descriptions of her characters and their situations--but the editorial lapses throughout the book drove me crazy and undermined the genius that could have been this book. and, they were stupid editorial oversights: spelling one character's name alternately as "faun bell" and "fawn bell;" describing chocho as having "muy thai" and "mui thai" boxing skills; and one unforgivable section in part VII: "The joke, presumably, was to ask the humorless, elderly 'Pansy' for a 'Hand Job.' Liza watched Pansy drone, 'Why, sir, never on a first date,' for what must have been the eighty-thousandth time..." (p. 317). sort of funny, right? the problem is, liza is in california at this time, not las vegas where the scene is taking place--peppy, earl and winnie are in the bar where pansy is enacting this painfully bad piece of situational comedy. liza doesn't get to the same bar in vegas until p. 324, which is where i can only assume this description was supposed to be put in. wilson notes how much she loves her editor in the end pages, but i can't help but think she seriously dropped the ball on continuity. the story is obscenely funny in parts, and i agree with the previous reviewer that the first half of the book is the strongest. i also agree that peppy's ending did not ring true to me at all--along with the cirrhosis she should have so rightly developed, i could see her ending more tragically than she does--which again was distracting from an otherwise strong book. i did like liza's ultimate fate, and especially ned's. the golden stag motif was interesting but too prevalent, particularly wilson's portrayal as herself as such, which i found to be a little obnoxious.Read more ›
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