Byron Lane’s debut novel is gaining a critical reputation as a “beach read” — the only problem is, there’s no beach. The days of carefree visits to the shore, buzzy paperback-of-the-moment in hand, are a thing of the distant pre-COVID-19 past. (For me, anyway.) But the essence of that experience, the my-shoulder-is-burning-but-I-need-to-finish-this-page of it all, is preserved in A Star Is Bored.
Lane’s book is an homage to the time he spent as the late Carrie Fisher’s assistant. But make no mistake, the work is fiction — the eccentric actress at the center of the novel, Kathi Kannon, isn’t meant as a stand-in for Fisher herself, though the parallels are difficult to ignore. Hardly a pseudonym-laced exposé, Lane says his novel aims to “capture the spirit” of his time with Fisher, which he maintains was “amazing and adventurous and joyful.”
Those three adjectives could be used to describe the story itself, which feels as though it’s told by an old friend (who is an astonishingly good and funny writer). Love leads as assistant Charlie guides us through the off-beat lifestyle of the boss he so reveres (despite her insistence on calling him “Cockring” and her penchant for secretly feeding her own prescription pill addiction under his nose). But while Kathi is the novel’s titular “Star,” it’s Charlie who grounds the narrative, the work peppered with glimpses of his complicated childhood and interior moments that are surprisingly raw in a book filled with so much humor and levity.
Experiences Lane shared with Fisher are depicted in the novel, like the time they rode dog sleds together and traveled to see the northern lights, but the details have been changed. “I look back at [those experiences] with such fondness, such love, and I’m so glad I can get some whisper of that on the page,” Lane tells me over the phone.
The idea for A Star Is Bored came after Fisher’s 2016 passing. “She had said ‘Take your broken heart and go make art’ and so that’s what I tried to do,” Lane said. But Fisher, who was a prolific writer in addition to a memorable actress, affected Lane’s work on a micro-level as well.
“Before she would write, she would read,” Lane remembered, noting that Fisher would handwrite everything on legal pads. “She would pick a book she enjoyed and just underline and reread paragraphs and kind of get into a rhythm of the prose, and then she would start writing. She used to call that ‘refilling the coffer.’ Those kinds of little things you observe and you can’t help but to absorb.”
The unavoidable sentimentality of a book inspired by a since-passed mentor caught up with Lane off the page, too — or, mostly off the page … In the final copy of the book, Lane added a few extra words to the acknowledgments section, meant specifically for his longtime partner and fellow author, Steven Rowley: “Will you marry me?”
“In [Rowley’s first book] Lily and the Octopus there’s a character in the end that’s based on me. And in [A Star Is Bored], the character Reid is a little bit based on him, so both of us have kind of cemented our stories,” Lane explained.
On a personal level, the first-time novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and actor, has a lot to celebrate. Lane just finished a round of chemotherapy after learning in April that the testicular cancer he was diagnosed with five years ago had returned. “Having the book come out soon was something to look forward to,” he shared. “It is such a wild time.”
While the current state of the world is bleak as ever, Lane hopes his novel will act as something of a reprieve. “I think we could all use a little hope and humor and heart in our lives right now,” he said. “I hope folks can find some way to check out and have a good time, even if it’s just on the page and they can’t leave their home.”
This year, Lane will bring the beach to us.
A Star Is Bored is available at booksellers nationwide.
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