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‘Parallel Lies’ by Stella Duffy

‘Parallel Lies’ by Stella Duffy

Author: Victoria Brownworth

February 1, 2011

Lambda Literary Award Finalist

Anyone who even glances at the tabloids by the register at the local drugstore or supermarket knows that celebrity has its dark side. Lindsay Lohan may be the best-known lesbian example (did she really just get out of rehab and get a house right next door to her ex, Samantha Ronson?) but there are tons of heterosexual celebrities with closet space for skeletons to spare.

It’s that dark side of celebrity that Stella Duffy takes on in her sometimes frothy, sometimes deep noir-ish novel of the less glitzy facet of Hollywood: the underside where the real truth hides. Parallel Lies (Bywater Books) isn’t just the perfect title, it’s descriptive of how everyone who populates Hollywood—both in reality and in the fictional version Duffy conjures—copes day-to-day.

The novel’s three central characters form a veritable triumvirate of non-truthiness. Yana Ivanova is a prodigy–and an A-list celebrity. Her star shines so brightly that no one seems able to see how she really lives, or her flaws.

Her boyfriend, Jimmy, doesn’t have a beard, he is one. And her personal assistant, Penny (just like in the movies), is a bisexual dream girl–she screws men who want to get “thisclose” to a real star, and also screws the real star–because it’s Penny, the classic Hollywood gal Friday (albeit British), who Yana shares her bedtimes with.

Yana is the picture of a major star. Born on the same day Olga Korbut catapulted to gymnastic stardom in the Olympics, Yana made her debut in a small town outside of Moscow. The later-in-life, new-chance daughter of a mother who was ready for divorce when she discovered she was unexpectedly expectant and yearning for a daughter after two sons, Yana did not disappoint. She was fluent in English and Russian at ten and at 17 had made her bilingual proficiency and classically beautiful and fragile Russian looks her literal fortune–touting her fashion portfolio on the streets of London after defecting on a trip abroad.

Within a few years Yana had made the transition from model to actress, from London to New York to Hollywood, from soap opera to sitcom to movies, from possibilities to probabilities.

She was a star.

Jimmy is a star, too, but a lesser star–yet good-looking and urbane and sexy and sweetly self-deprecating. For five years he and Yana have been making a home and magazine spreads together. For which Yana pays him a cool $2 million a year.

And then there’s Penny. Penny the sexy British PA who periodically trolls the best clubs for a bit of obvious fun. Because the reality is, she’s put the P in personal when it comes to assisting Yana.

This menage a trois works perfectly for all three of the players right up until the letters start coming.

Someone has gotten a peek into their closet. Someone is threatening to blow the door right off. Someone knows just a tad too much.

And then someone has an accident.


Parallel Lies was first published in the U.K. and Bywater Books was smart to reissue it here in the U.S. This noir fable of what we do to maintain image in a world increasingly about smoke and mirrors, Botox and Juviderm, is a super little rendering of what life is like in La La Land where names mean everything and substance is as ephemeral as youth.

Duffy has a keen eye for the slickness of life lived on alphabetical lists. She details the specifics of celebrity–from the casual drug-taking to the even more casual fornicating. The picture she paints with her deft and snarky prose has all the starkness of hyper-realism.

This is a quirkily different novel about the kind of life we’ve all read about and few of us ever get close to. Duffy takes us inside and shows us that ambition is neither shiny nor happy, but is very much a reflection of what those of us outside Tinsel Town want to see. And it can be a killer.

One of the best written lesbian novels–genre or otherwise–this year. Two thumbs up. Four stars. Not to be missed.
By Stella Duffy
Bywater Books
Paperback, 9781932859751, 240pp
November 2010

Victoria Brownworth photo

About: Victoria Brownworth

Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and A Room of Her Own, a columnist and contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review and a columnist for San Francisco Bay Area Reporter. Her reporting and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Nation, Ms Magazine and Slate. Her book, 'From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth' won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her new novel, 'Ordinary Mayhem,' won the IPPY Award for fiction on May 1, 2015. Her book 'Erasure: Silencing Lesbians' and her next novel, 'Sleep So Deep,' will both be published in 2016. @VABVOX

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