Book Review – Sellevision by Augusten Burroughs

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Cynicism makes for much nervous laughter.
Sellevision is akin to trying to jam to elevator music in an abandoned office building – wholly corporate in appearance yet jarring and an oddly specific experience.

Sellevision focuses on the staff and actors of a home-shopping network who are faced with stalkers, scandals and shopping addictions. It was part of a self-challenge to read a larger variety of fiction. I rarely read comedies, so this was something different. I did enjoy the story, but felt like maybe I’m not quite cynical enough to find it a “riot” as the blurbs claim. No idea what home shopping networks are like now, I imagine pretty much the same as they’ve always been. I really have no strong emotions about them, but the book uses them well as a platform for a biting jab at consumerist culture and its blind apathy.

I liked Max’s and Peggy Jean’s storylines most – Max looking for another job after a nudity scandal causes him to lose his, and Peggy Jean being harassed by an angry fan. Bebe and Eliot’s affair was cute if cloying (that fake-out reveal almost got me though). Trish and Leigh’s plots about network drama were neutral ground, felt kind of like filler.

Ironically, despite being made out as a walking rich suburbanite stereotype, I found Peggy Jean to be the only sympathetic character in the end, and the only one who grows as a character rather than moving horizontally from one wreck to another.
Yeah, Peggy Jean is a target for a lot of cynicism for at first being a covert snob and ignoring other people when it counted. Fair, but does she really deserve the horrible things she gets from the story? Awful kids, psychological trauma and a husband who is a foul human being. But as it all falls apart, her character and faith turns out to be far more genuine than it seems, and in the end she’s much better and happier.

Max is an interesting case. He’s a likeable protagonist with realistic faults. I feel like Max is how most people feel about the kind of shows mentioned in the book – knowing a lot is fake, trashy or pandering and yet wouldn’t turn down the chance to be a part of it if the opportunity was there.

“It’s all a wasteland, he thought. But I belong in that wasteland.”

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