Tuesday, October 25, 2011

“Pseudoscientific snake oil” in Lalawood

L.A. Mental
by Neil McMahon

Having just finished an emotionally devastating novel, I was looking for something lighter and a lot less challenging. Literary sorbet. Well, you get what you ask for.

LA Mental opens with several news reports of bizarre incidents of Angelino’s hurting themselves or others. From there, we’re plunged into the first-person world of clinical psychologist and college professor Tom Crandall as he gets a 3:00am wake-up call from his addict brother. Wanting to keep the police out of it, Tom ascertains his brother’s whereabouts in Malibu and races to the site. He find’s Nick’s cocaine-dusted car first, and stops to confiscate the drugs. He then follows the howls to his brother. Nick is perched on the edge of a cliff and even less coherent than usual, ranting, “There. Are. Worms. Eating my brain.” Tom’s attempt to lure him away from the ledge is interrupted by a cell phone call. Nick listens a moment and then immediately attacks Tom. The brief scuffle comes to a halt, and just as suddenly, Nick throws himself over the ledge. Tom leaps after.

And so it begins. I guess it’s not a terrible start, but this is one of those novels that just kept losing stars as it went. So much of the plot felt contrived, from Tom’s youthful background as a lifeguard, to a later convenient association with a renowned physicist. He comes from a family dripping with money, be unlike the rest of them, he chooses to live a modest, unassuming life. After that opening, the bulk of the plot revolves around a film production that his other brother, Paul, got the family involved with. It’s shooting on location at one of their properties. “The head of Parallax Productions—a native Swede named Gunnar Kelso—had been a world class physicist earlier in his life.” ‘Cause that’s normal. And the film they’re shooting isn’t just a little light entertainment; it actually explicates Kelso’s insane, cult-like theories. Kelso dresses his madness up in science, but Tom thinks to himself, “pseudoscientific snake oil.” That’s an understatement. God, it just gets more and more convoluted from there, and I don’t have the heart to go on. It’s all so dumb. I think I lost several IQ points just reading it.

I’m not very forgiving of bad science (and this is beyond bad), but it might be overlooked if the writing, characters, pacing, anything were exemplary, but it was all so… meh. Tom was such a non-entity to rest a novel on. I read this book at lightning speed, but I still kept forgetting his name. None of the other characters were very likable or especially noteworthy. Dialogue was occasionally cringe-worthy. (“If something goes wrong—they’re up against the power structure that owns the bones of this city.” Ugh.) Plot points are left hanging. It’s just a hot mess.

On the plus side, LA Mental is a short, quick read. It moved at a reasonable pace. It was, as requested, not too challenging. The author managed to capture the superficiality of Los Angeles. Most of the prose was serviceable. And best of all, I see no reason for a sequel.


  1. I love that: "And best of all, I see no reason for a sequel." I have read this author before and wasn't terribly impressed. Ah well.

  2. I love: "I read this book at lightning speed, but I still kept forgetting his name." Hahahahahaha. Well, here's one writer I can ignore.

  3. I'm glad my bitchiness entertains. ;-)