American Literature





Michael Hollister


Three historical novels depict Hollywood's global influence from the 1930s to the present age of terrorism, through the life stories of Sarah McCloud, a farm girl from Oregon, and Ryan Eisley, the son of a beer distributor from Ohio.


In Holywood, as an innocent of eighteen, Sarah leaves the farm and follows her boyfriend Burke Hanson when his family moves to Los Angeles. There she rents a room from the Hansons in a poor neighborhood during the Great Depression and finds a job as a secretary. Eventually she marries Burke and has a child, but their marriage breaks up when he leaves to join the Marines after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Her story is interwoven with Ryan's, as he rises from gas station attendant to movie director at 20th Century Fox. His sordid adventures in Hollywood, including an orgy hosted by a horror star, and his unhappy first marriage to an actress who sleeps with producers to get contracts, subvert his morality and religion. Their lives converge in the inspirational ending at a public reception honoring servicemen leaving for the war. Organized by Bette Davis and attended by over a dozen male stars in uniform, including Clark Gable and James Stewart, the event evokes a time when Americans felt united as a country.


Follywood dramatizes the 1940s and 50s, with deep focus on directors, writers and politics. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the young 20th Century Fox director Ryan Eisley films a documentary on women working in a defense plant, where he meets Sarah. They marry and settle down on a ranch in the San Fernando Valley with their two kids and their dog Boffo.

The Eisleys go on to make independent films adapting American classics, while Sarah tries to overcome Ryan's infidelities with scripts and actresses. Just after their film Women in Hemingway is released, the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities resumes investigating Communist influence in Hollywood, provoking their stars John Huston, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to fight back by joining a delegation of stars who fly to the hearings in an airplane named Star of the Red Sea. Some suspect the Eisleys are Communists and the hearings could end their careers. They hope to clear themselves by producing the anti-Communist film Blithedale, starring Tracy and Hepburn.

The Eisleys become involved on both sides of the Blacklist scandal, as Sarah resists the Communists who control the Screen Writers Guild and Ryan fights the conservatives who try to impose a blacklist on the Screen Directors Guild. Like the nation, their marriage is threatened by disloyalty and the prospect of war. Orson Welles takes over their Pierre, then Josef Stalin courts Judy Garland in their Flowering Judas. Their lives interwoven with their films, the Eisleys dramatize the dominant political and aesthetic conflicts in Hollywood.


Hollywood’s global influence from the 1960s to the present age of terrorism, culminating in the Iraq War. The team of Sarah and Ryan Eisley film Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, then divorce, but stay in touch. Ryan directs studio pictures for Universal, takes up with a much younger actress, attends the Woodstock festival and turns countercultural in his Beverly Hills mansion. Inspired to film an independent documentary of the black civil rights, hippie and anti-Vietnam War movements, he encounters President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Manson gang.

Their son Davin Eisley goes to Vietnam as a medic and their daughter Karen leaves her husband and disappears with her three kids. Living apart from Ryan in San Francisco, Sarah goes back to graduate school and tries to hold their family together while earning a doctorate at Berkeley, during the peak of violent protest there. She becomes a film critic, then moves to Portland and becomes a teacher in the Hollyworld of higher education, where the stars are tenured and the audience is captive.

Interwoven throughout the story of the Eisley family are major films with themes organic to the narrative, including The Best Years of Our Lives, Billy Budd, Dr. Strangelove, The Graduate, Woodstock, Easy Rider, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apocalypse Now, Close Encounters, Reds, The Big Chill, and The Player. In addition, Communist propaganda movies of the period are exposed in detail, such as Fail-Safe, The Way We Were, The Front and Coming Home. The novel deflates the Blacklist myth popular in show business, satirizes political correctness and ridicules Marxist movie stars and professors.


Salishan is the language family of most Indians in the Pacific Northwest. The novel opens in the last Ice Age, as a young Indian mother tries to survive a white flood when the Great Ice breaks upon her in the Columbia Gorge. Ten thousand years later, a band of Salish assist the white scouts Lewis and Clark. Then whites come flooding west by covered wagon. Missionaries plead with an old Indian undertaker to release a slave boy he buried alive with his master.

Jedidiah Bowman, a young logger from Maine, fights in the Civil War, then joins a wagon train going west and is hired to protect a family including nine daughters. He marries one and settles on forestland near Portland. Five generations of Bowmans help to build the West. In the 1970s Daniel Bowman marries a Salish Indian girl, Shona Fullmoon. During the 1990s their son Nathaniel becomes a logger and then a double agent in the culture war between environmentalists and timber workers. Known only as Owl Man--spotted or barred?--he copes with hit men, exposes crooks, penetrates an eco terrorist cell after 9/11 and falls in love with the wife of a timber baron with a beach house at the luxurious resort of Salishan on the Oregon Coast.

Environmentalists blame logging for the decline of the northern spotted owl, but evidence accumulates that the primary cause is interbreeding and displacement by the barred owl. The government is now trying to stop evolution by slaughtering barred owls. When the government declares their property spotted owl habitat, the Bowman family is not allowed to cut any of their own trees. They can no longer thin to protect their ancient forest, their home and their town from a wildfire. Salishan challenges revisionist historians, prevailing ecological theory and myths of Nature. Urban versus rural politics with a cast including over thirty tribes.


Mark Olmstead is a young pest control exterminator whose company, Eco PC, becomes politically incorrect in the ultra green yet polluted city of Portland, where he is besieged by animal rights protestors including the Militant Insect Alliance, who spank him with fly swatters. He moves back to rural Oregon and commutes, only to find that most of his hometown Morehead Gap is now owned by his new landlord, Wes Titus, a politically correct developer. Titus sets aside the woods he owns in town as a wilderness area, which becomes a garbage dump, to preserve Nature for future generations and to protect a rat on the Endangered Species List. The town church has decayed, is infested by vermin and occupied by Waldo Ralph, an old hippie who has reconsecrated the structure as the ecocentric Church of Highs, a refuge for wildlife where he grows medical marijuana in the basement.

Facing bugs all the time, Mark has become stoical, which reduces his sex appeal. He courts a former classmate, Sally Chan, who is half Chinese. Sally is divorced from the hip comedian and hot air balloonist Dandy Adler and is trying to reconcile with their alienated teenage daughter Jody, who aspires to be a slutty vampire. Mark takes a side job as a marijuana dealer, involving him with violent hippies, a black drug gang, Islamic terrorists, political assassins, the FBI and a cabal of computer hackers playing God in real life through an Internet video game called Oz and the Flying Monkeys, using the game as a cover for dealing drugs, looting bank accounts and penetrating the national defense.

Mark suspects that one of the Monkeys is Yakov Tete, a radical professor visiting his neighbor Diana Hartfield, a book editor vacationing from New York. Tete believes his lover Diana is having an affair with Mark and he may be the Monkey who hires a hit man to exterminate the exterminator.