“Do a lot of people call you Cockring?”
So begins the relationship between Charlie Besson and movie star Kathi Kannon in Byron Lane’s hilarious debut novel, A Star Is Bored. The book follows the story of nerdy Charlie after he lands a job as personal assistant to Kathi, who just happens to be Charlie’s boyhood hero for the role she played, Priestess Talara, in a blockbuster sci-fi action adventure movie in the ’70s.
In other words, Princess Leia. “A Star Is Bored is inspired by the three years I was personal assistant to Carrie Fisher,” says Lane, now a playwright and screenwriter in Los Angeles. “My time working for her was absolutely magical — full of trips all over the world, a behind the scenes look at fame and fortune, and so much laughter.”
On Thursday, Oct. 15, Lane will read from and discuss the book in a virtual event on Zoom for East End Books Ptown.
The character of Kathi is fresh, irreverent, and funny. She takes a shine to Charlie and dubs him “Cockring.” After a rough start at the job, Charlie gets a little help from the assistants’ club, an informal network of Hollywood celebrity assistants who pitch in and help each other navigate everything from facilitating addiction recovery to finding butt-bleaching services for their bosses.
Kathi is, in fact, an addict who is jaded with life (as Fisher herself revealed in her own books and plays), but it’s her sense of humor that highlights the experience. In one scene, she checks into a hotel and tells the clerk that Charlie is her stepson. “But if you must know, yes, we are having sex,” she adds before snatching the room keys and flouncing off to her room.
Things improve drastically for Charlie in his new role — taking care of Kathi gives him a sense of purpose. The two develop a wonderful, though lopsided, friendship. In one scene, Kathi and Charlie are served live octopus in a restaurant in Japan. “We have to get rid of them!” Kathi says as she empties her Hermès purse and shoves the octopuses into it. Course after course arrives and the Hermès bag grows large, stuffed with “raw, squirming critters and beasts.” At the end of the night, she hands the purse to Charlie, who has to get rid of the contents and clean it.
At its heart, A Star Is Bored is about relationships and how they shape us. There is a mother-son dynamic between star and assistant, and this helps Charlie heal from the loss of his real mother at an early age. “All relationships are fascinating to me,” Lane says, “but that of parent and child is perhaps the most curious. I’m a big therapy and self-help guy, so I love exploring all that stuff. A parent has such an impact on the child’s worldview — sometimes forever, sometimes just until the child is old enough to break free. I think being honest about all that creates space for healing and humor, for growth and connection.”
Take, for example, the scene in which Kathi makes Charlie book a last-minute trip to see the Northern Lights. The pair make a trek to a small Arctic town where Kathi surprises Charlie with a dogsledding expedition. When their guide says he won’t be joining them on the ride, Kathi takes the reins. “We don’t need him,” she tells Charlie. Turning to the guide, she adds, “This is part of a trust exercise his psychiatrist says will help make him more comfortable coming out of the closet.” And off they go at breakneck speed.
Recalling the scene makes Lane smile. “Kathi, a woman who’s seen it all, gets to see a natural phenomenon that had escaped her until that moment,” he says. “And Charlie gets to see his friend have a genuine, beautiful connection with life. Something similar happened with me and Carrie.”
Despite the chain of comical adventures, there is a darker side to the relationship between Charlie and Kathi, and cracks begin to show when he realizes he’s being consumed by taking care of someone else. Kathi’s struggles with mania and drug addiction eventually drive a wedge between them. But by the end of the book, Charlie finds himself in a much better place.
Writing A Star Is Bored “was a blast and it was healing,” Lane says. “My experiences with [Fisher] redefined what friendship means to me and saved my life in so many ways. I tried to capture that spirit in a story I hope sings of humor and heart.”
Indeed, that is perhaps the most powerful thing about this must-read novel — its ability to elicit a laugh from the reader in one moment, and a hit home with something touching and reflective in the next. It’s a fast-paced romp through the lifestyles of the rich and famous from the perspective of their assistants, which is about as real as it gets. And in the telling, Lane has a voice that’s clear and fresh, one that readers will connect with easily.
Singin’ in the Pain
The event: Byron Lane reads from and discusses his book A Star Is Bored
The time: Thursday, Oct. 15, at 6 p.m.
The place: Virtual event presented by eastendbooksptown.com via Zoom
The cost: Free tickets at Eventbrite.com; pre-registration required