My Inflatable Friend, by Gerald Everett Jones: a bittersweet novel of Los Angeles

Well, the title is not my favorite thing about this novel. Neither is the cover art, which may explain why you won’t see it there. So when Gerald handed me his book, with a few words of explanation about boychik lit, my heart sank. I pictured hormone-addled young men downing entire kegs of beer in some squalid frat house.

I was in for a surprise. This book recounts, in a fast-paced, comedic, tongue-in-cheek style, the
adventures of Rollo Hemphill (I know, I too wondered about that, but Rollo is not into marijuana, or any other kind of drugs.)

We find Rollo working – or rather not working – as a
car jockey at Wuthering Palms, a luxurious Los Angeles hotel. There the love of his life, Felicia, practices the art of cosmetology. Monica
LaMonica, the waning soap opera star, lives semi-incognito in a bungalow on the hotel grounds and
patronizes Felicia’s salon.

At first Rollo comes across as a young man without much of a past, present or future. Felicia
won’t give him the time of day, the lowest-ranking of his fellow employees don’t even
try to hide their contempt, and, as far as Monica is concerned, he might as
well be one of the cockroaches that infest even the most palatial places in
the city.

But we soon realize that there is more to Rollo than
meets the eye. Rollo is the kind of young man who doesn’t hesitate to go out on
a limb for the sake of love, especially when that limb is too frail to bear his
weight, no matter how light. In a nutshell, Rollo has already been in some
serious trouble, and more trouble is coming his way fast.

Only at that point does Rollo’s inflatable friend appear in the story. Its purpose is not,
contrary to what the author slyly (mis)leads the reader to expect, solitary sexual gratification. I will not reveal what it is meant to achieve: no
spoilers here.

So what did I not like in this book? The title and the cover, as I said in the beginning. Not only do I find them misleading, but they may turn off many potential female readers.

And what did I like? About everything else. It is the story of a young man who is at last turning into an adult, though he is not completely there at the end of the novel. Rollo shows that he is capable of professional achievement, true love, and even some measure of integrity. I understand that Gerald has sequels coming (titled Rubber Babes and Farnworth’s Revenge.) I look forward to reading them and wouldn’t be surprised if this tale were ultimately one of redemption. I do hope so, because I grew very fond of Rollo, in a sort of motherly, protective way.

Also, as an Angelena, I feel that the novel captures the
spirit of the city in all of its glorious and maddening shallowness and complexity: the surgically enhanced stars, the ambitious immigrants, the arrogant waiters, the celebrity stalkers, the sleazy politicians, the palm trees swaying in the breeze… On the silver screen, this could make a delightful romantic comedy. Any chance of that, Gerald?

I must add that Gerald is quite the polymath and also writes screenplays and non-fiction (one of his other titles I do love: How to Lie With Charts.)

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