Showbiz follows Nathan Grant, a freelance journalist whose career has stalled out in the middle of an intersection, as he gets in over his head chasing down a story that could make his career or break his legs. That's plot taken care of. Out of the plot, or maybe alongside?, come all kinds of great characters and themes. And jokes.
Mostly Anderson gives us a nervous Canadian navigating the USA, a post-paranoid landscape yin-yanging on the axis of exhibitionism and secrecy. Reality TV and conspiracy theories. All of which is plenty entertaining and worthwhile, but what really makes the novel crackle are the insights Anderson teases about, well, Showbiz. Throughout the book, we get brief italicized vignettes from Grant's quarry, presidential impersonator Jimmy Wynn; internal monologues as he psyches himself up for another curtain call in the good old days. As the novel winds its way through show biz meccas New York City, Las Vegas, L.A. and rural Californa desert toward a climax that could only happen on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, the parallels between the art of impersonation and the craft of writing start humming like tines of the same tuning fork. The last half of the book is really enjoyable.
The first 30 or so pages are a little awkward. There are scenes at an art opening and a bar-qua-barber shop that don't do a lot to engage the reader or necessarily set up the rest of the book. Anderson eases in to the parallel reality of his novel--a world where JFK was named Teddy Cannon and killed in New Orleans, Lenny Bruce survived to turn into a low-rent Ed McMahon, though the Shaggs persist (albeit under a different name) because even on a quantum level, no universe could exist without them--a little too slowly, giving the impression at first that he's just too chicken shit to use real names. But once we meet Anderson's pudding-loving Lenny Bruce the idea finally clicks and the novel really takes off.
Plus, Anderson includes my favourite joke (best told as an orphaned punchline by Detective Meldrick Lewis throughout several seasons of Homicide: Life on the Streets) about a bear.