‘The Starlet Apartments’ by Jonathan Lethem

The Starlet Apartments by Jonathan Lethem, 2019

The magic trick:

Starting with a setting intro that appears to complete an entire story arc, before veering back for a deeper dive into a tangent

L is for Lethem.

Sometimes it’s good to step back and simply appreciate a story’s structure.

Our narrator begins by introducing us to a specific time in his life. He moved to Los Angeles to write scripts with a college buddy. They lived and worked together in the Starlet Apartments. The intro goes on to put a bow on the entire thing – they didn’t sell anything they wrote during the whole time.

OK, so that’s the story, right?

Well, no.

The next section actually begins with the admission: “But that’s getting ahead of the story of the Starlet.” Simple, but I like it. We get the setting and a complete start and finish for the original purpose in the setting, before veering back to dig deeper into a tangent.

And that’s quite a trick on Lethem’s part.

The selection:

Todbaum and I sold none of what we wrote at the Starlet, though we did run those notions in and out of a great number of meetings. We excelled in near-misses that may not have been near at all, and were, in any event, epic time-wastings, involving follow-up conference calls and weeks of waiting, or requests for further writing on spec which were only occasionally rewarded with anything more nourishing than a free coffee. By the time our run concluded, with Todbaum’s agent’s Rolodex exhausted, two things were apparent: First, that I, the silent partner, the keyboard man, could bang out immense quantities of more or less the thing that was needed in this town, the fuel it all ran on, and that sooner or later I actually might be rewarded for it. Second, that Peter Todbaum had a different gift, for spinning rooms into a kind of visionary frenzy on the pinwheel of his tongue, even if the rooms, for now, quit spinning as soon as he exited. More than one of the development executives we met with joked to him, in so many words, “You should have my job!” Soon, he did.


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