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Death by Sunshine Paperback – October 11, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


Death by Sunshine marks the welcome return of Allison Burnett's deliciously vainglorious and perverse protagonist, B. K. Troop. In short, he's one of the great comic characters in recent literature, on a par with Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces
- Robin Russin, L.A. Review of Books

"Like Truman Capote, Allison Burnett knows how to pull up a chair and whisper a juicy story into his lucky reader's ear. Death By Sunshine is a quickly-paced tale inhabited by fascinating and funny creatures." -- Nell Scovell, Vanity Fair 

"In this age when the genuine comic novel seems to be an extinct species, Allison Burnett gives us reason to rejoice. Death By Sunshine is a return trip to the world of B.K. Troop, one of the most appealing characters ever put on a page." - Charles Busch, author of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and Die, Mommie, Die! 

From the Publisher

Death by Sunshine marks the welcome return of Allison Burnett's deliciously vainglorious and perverse protagonist, B. K. Troop. Troop is a true original, an aging, alcoholic, pretentious, gay memoirist, an impoverished wine-snob and would-be Lothario who fixates on all the wrong targets for his amorous advances. A constantly bubbling brew of hormones, Troop is alternately prone to fits of vanity, self-pity, cranky erudition, and sudden moments of improbably, impetuous bravery. He is at once impatient with a world that refuses to acknowledge his brilliance, and prone to bouts of drunken wallowing in the realization that he is a failure in life and an object of contempt to almost everyone he meets. Troop is haunted by an abusive childhood: "...memories of midnight whispers, strange rashes, painful bruises, waking from nightmares to something far worse"; and yet, he is still randy with desire and delighted by literature and life's small pleasures. In short, he's one of the great comic characters in recent literature, on a par with Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.
Burnett's first Troop novel, Christopher, and its sequel, The House Beautiful, were both set in Troop's beloved New York City. Both books are framed as Troop's memoirs: Christopher recounts his tortuous stratagems to seduce the eponymous straight university student with whom he's fallen in love; in The House Beautiful, he lucks into inheriting a brownstone that he turns into a little rental artists colony to pay the rent and fill the loneliness in his life, and where he once again becomes frustratingly fixated on a shy young student, Adrian.
Death by Sunshine takes him out of his comfort zone (if such a thing is possible for him) and is the "memoir" of his quixotic odyssey to the City of Angels. Apparently offered a chance to have his first book (Christopher) made into a movie, Troop self-consciously and self-loathingly follows the tradition of prior literati who migrated west to sell their souls to the industry, itching to at last be rich and famous, while at the same time bemoaning their devil's bargain.
Mr. Burnett--also a screenwriter, producer and director with more that a dozen feature credits, including Fame and Autumn in New York--skillfully weaves in a number of genres appropriate to the adventure: the book begins as a comic road trip (or rather a rail trip, as Troop can neither drive a car nor abide air travel), evolves into a Hollywood cautionary tale, and then takes a turn into a noir murder mystery. On the cross-country train-ride, Troop throws himself at the first available target, a handsome, sullen drunkard who may or may not be the scion of a Mafia family. But this is a short-lived obsession.
Arriving in the southland, Troop encounters a menagerie of indigenous types: the carnivorous and enhanced would-be starlet, the fraudulent producer, the D-girl, the mysterious acting coach, the desperate screenwriter, the seedy motel near the glamor of Beverly Hills and the romance of the Pacific, and yet worlds away from both. There's also the subplot of a predatory, would-be stage mother and her heart-breakingly abused little girl. These kinds of elements are familiar in Hollywood literature from The Day of The Locust to Get Shorty, but Burnett gives them fresh energy by viewing them through Troop's comic misapprehensions and distinctive voice. Here's how Troop describes a past-his-prime screenwriter he encounters at a Hollywood whodunit party: "His high dudgeon would have been more impressive if it had not been painfully obvious that he would have given his right leg for the privilege of having a movie star destroy one of his scripts. He was like the stripper who grouses about her customers not two minutes before showing them her ovarian walls. Either quit screenwriting or shut the hell up." But the description, as Troop is painfully aware, applies equally to himself.
Troop's sad-sack first encounter with the film industry gives way to more pressing concerns: through the sex ads of a free paper, he contacts a male prostitute with whom he hopes to pass a few hours of casual lust. The young man who arrives, and who bears little resemblance to the hunk in the ad, is Calvin. Unlike Christopher or Adrian, Calvin is not beautiful, or young. Pushing thirty, he is a tall, ungainly, balding, stork of a male prostitute, but Troop senses in him another victim of abuse and, in spite of Calvin's lack of education or any other apparent redeeming quality, a kindred soul. Instead of enjoying the bout of sweaty sex he'd imagined, Troop finds himself simply cuddling the young man, and then attending his pathetic birthday party. And then Calvin disappears, which sends Troop on the ill-conceived sleuthing mission that comprises the remainder of his Los Angeles adventure, at first hilarious and finally tragic, in ways that Troop never expected but understands on a deeply personal.
Mr. Burnett is a dazzling stylist, and the astonishing verbal agility with which he informs Troop's first-person narrative is one of the great pleasures of these adventures. Troop's voice in the previous volumes had echoes of Waugh and Capote. Here, there is a resonance as well of S.J. Perelman's witty logophilia and simultaneously self-aggrandizing and self-ridiculing persona, especially in his many pieces devoted to life's comic mortifications and the dangers of Hollywood's siren song. Burnett (through Troop's jaundiced eyes) is precise and inventive in his observations, from pudendal ("...I looked down and saw that, through a gap in my fuzzy robe, my privates dangled like fruit bats"; "Her cut-off denims were tiny. A tuft of pubic hair clawed out from one side like the hand of a buried miner") to Troop's abortive attempt at a career in Hollywood ("If the French have taught us anything...besides the value of rich sauces on rotten meat, it's the upside of surrender") to his horrified astonishment at Los Angeles traffic ("It was a Saturday afternoon, for heaven's sake and we were heading away from the metropolis not toward it! Surely this was the greatest urban exodus since the epic flight of the Jews from Brooklyn to Long Island").
As with Mr. Burnett's prior novels, Death by Sunshine is a showcase for the irrepressible Troop, full of naughty humor, absurd misadventures, and playful literary allusions and references to everyone from Laurence Sterne to Henry James. But the story has real depth as well, in the end becoming a moving, tragicomic meditation on how being open to the possibility of love can redeem even the worst humiliations and failures of human nature. 
Robin Russin is a Professor of Screenwriting at the University of California, Riverside, where he serves as Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. He has written, produced and directed for film, TV and the theater, including the box office hit On Deadly Ground; America's Most Wanted on Fox; and Vital Signs on ABC. Most recently, he directed Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Charles Evered's Class for 3Theatre Group and the Riverside Arts Council. Robin is co-author of the books Screenplay: Writing the Picture and Naked Playwriting. His stories, articles and reviews have been appeared in Script Magazine, Verdad Magazine, Connotation Press, Harvard Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The American Oxonian, and elsewhere. A Rhodes Scholar, he received his A.B. from Harvard, and graduate degrees from Oxford University, Rhode Island School of Design, and UCLA.

Product details

  • Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
  • Paperback : 260 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1937746003
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1937746001
  • Product Dimensions : 5.25 x 0.65 x 8 inches
  • Publisher : Writers Tribe Books (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 17 ratings

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