December 16, 2013

REVIEW: GOING DOWN by Chris Campanioni

  

He was addicted to the culture he reviled.  It tested him, and each time he surrendered to it he only realized it was possible to go further, deeper, descend completely. He was going down…. –Chris Selden


You always want to act like you’re in control. Even if you’re only pretending. – Mark Van Etty



Engaging. Captivating. Exciting. 

New writers are always told, “write what you know.”  No one can dispute that Chris Campanioni knows a thing or two about being a model and so we are not surprised that his first novel would be set in the glamorous world of fashion or that our protagonist would be a mini-Chris. What we are surprised at is at the novel’s dark tone.  Our hero is a tragic figure -- restless, bored, lost.  His backup plan falls through, and it is not until tragedy strikes at the heart of him, that he finds the courage to step back from the fame, the money and start anew.

Campanioni writes with a frank, open, engaging style, with great narratives, vivid descriptions, lots of action, and numerous flamboyant characters.  The author does gloss over the drug and sexual abuse rampant in the industry, and we must admit the endless flashbacks are distracting.  But despite all that, readers will still be captivated by his insights into the world of fashion and the life of a male model -- an extravagant world everyone dreams of but few ever enter.

BOOK SUMMARY:   Chris Selden is a pampered, privileged college grad from Bergen County, New Jersey.  He is a “poster boy” for the new breed of Young Productive Americas but with no prospects of a job of any kind.  In fact, he’s what could be termed an educated bum, living at home with his parents with big dreams of becoming a journalist.  And though, he does get a job as a writer at the local newspaper, it is modeling that pays the bills. 

A writer by day, a model-party boytoy by night, Chris pursues both his passion for literature and his modeling career.  Within months, his face is plastered all over billboards and magazines.  Modeling leads him to acting and he is soon the newest, but nameless, bartender in Pine Valley (OLTL soap).  His Cuban mother Ana is super proud; while his white father wants him to find a “real” job.

Chris is soon meeting the right people, going to the right parties, getting the call backs, enjoying the fame and fortune coming his way, while his real love of writing at the newspaper proves unfulfilling.  He soon learns that journalism is not literature, and when the office finds out about his modeling, he becomes a joke.

Our hero becomes a tragic figure – bored, morose, jaded.  Like in his favorite novel, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde, Chris is pursuing a life of beauty and fulfillment of the senses but the wild life of debauchery has an adverse effect on him.  He may be smiling for the cameras but inside he is depressed, unhappy.  The earlier, naïve Chris had always planned to have a backup plan if he ever found himself stuck somewhere and wasting his time.  Here he was wasting his life away, and though he kept hoping his writing would save him, it doesn’t.  In fact, being a journalist is boring and Chris soon quits New Jersey and his day job to devote himself to modeling in New York.

Our hero soon becomes lost in the shallow, cut-throat world of fashion; Living in a luxury penthouse with other models and wannabes like himself; Partying the night away hoping to be seen; sleeping with an endless parade of women.  Chris both enjoys and abhors his existence, but when a budding film producer offers to make a documentary of his life, Chris is all for it.  The documentary is a hit and makes it to the Cannes Film Festival.  Now his fame is international.  And it is not until his loving mother develops dementia, that Chris realizes the emptiness of his life.   

With his mother’s death, Chris finally admits and acknowledges that he was “going down;” sinking into despair.   He runs off to Brazil to find some peace and do another modeling gig, another soap role.  He finally admits to himself that he is lost in a dream he never wanted, and this time finally, truly breaks away and returns to writing; hoping to finally find peace and redemption in literature.###


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Chris Campanioni is a native New Yorker and a first-generation Cuban- and Polish-American.  He is the recipient of the 2013 Academy of American Poets Prize for poetry from his collection, IN CONVERSATION.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Lehigh University and a Master of Arts from Fordham University, and has worked as a journalist, model and actor.  He teaches literature and creative writing at the City University of New York.  His debut novel, GOING DOWN, was recently selected by the New York Post as a “must-read book.”  To learn more about this author, visit him at www.chriscampanioni.com.