Oddly enough, though the setting for most of the action is a remote and secluded ranch in Colorado, the many and varied references to our beloved NYC are right there if you know where to look. For instance, as I rode in a cab the other night south along Varick Street, we passed a pub we frequented when ever working around SoHo Rep called "Walker's". I had been an irregular for years during the Paul Rebhan, Harper Gallery days of the mid-1990's. A few blocks further south, West Broadway intersects with "Reade" Street and there you have it. The name of our antagonist :Walker Reade. A slightly over-the-hill cultural icon struggling with so many demons his writers block becomes near impenetrable. Now back in the day, (and even now) you could start a bar-crawl on Centre Street, proceed west along Reade Street and never make it to the Hudson River! But I digress...
Walker Reade is a thinly veiled portrait of Hunter S. Thompson who is, or was at one time, the master of Gonzo Journalism. (A term which would fit neatly in the Oxford American Dictionary right between "gonorrhea" and "goo".) For me Thompson and his work picked up the torch ignited by the likes of Henry Miller, Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Norman Mailer. He didn't just live in the wild west, he was the wild west of our generation.
His story is told through the eyes of his latest editorial assistant, Alley Russo, hired to aid him in a faltering attempt at a new novel. Her duties include: lighting his butts, mixing his cocktails, catering to every whim of culinary craving, entertaining his guests (who are among Hollywood's "A" listers of the era), accompanying him on wild car rides, extravagant dinners for two and...oh yes, editing his copy whenever he deigns to write anything coherent.
Alley is based on Della Pietra's own experience as Thompson's assistant, yet with this fictionalized account, she is able to evoke so much more than just memory for the "good old days" when driving around terrorizing your famous neighbors while high on whatever was just looked upon as good natured hi-jinks. Reade in this portrayal single-handedly embodies our American obsession with excess, and Alley Russo on one woman's journey to find out when enough is enough.
It may be odd to look back at the 80's and 90's and think of them as an age of innocence, but compared to our present situation, it seems almost reasonable that artists like Spalding Gray and Hunter S. Thompson decided to check out early.
Yet, there is an inherent optimism to this piece. Like if we can survive this, we can survive anything.Though Thompson set the literary world ablaze back in the day, Della Pietra starts a few fires of her own. By the end what I craved was a Grappa Cocktail...and a clove of garlic.