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Ryan Seacrest is Famous

If you’re the kind of person who reads book reviews, you’re also probably the kind of person who occasionally says things like, “I don’t really watch that much TV,” or who likes to pretend they’ve never sang along to a boy band in the shower. If this in any way describes you, then prepare to squirm a little while you read Dave Housley’s Ryan Seacrest is Famous. This debut collection is littered with pop culture references, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll catch way more of them than you’d like. These stories, which originally appeared in magazines such as Nerve, Backward City Review, and Hobart, take on a variety of pop culture types, including reality television, professional wrestling, and wedding DJs. Fortunately for us, Housley goes past the most obvious hipster-ironic observations and into the more earnest territories reserved for true pop culture fanatics.

If you’re the kind of person who reads book reviews, you’re also probably the kind of person who occasionally says things like, “I don’t really watch that much TV,” or who likes to pretend they’ve never sang along to a boy band in the shower. If this in any way describes you, then prepare to squirm a little while you read Dave Housley’s Ryan Seacrest is Famous. This debut collection is littered with pop culture references, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll catch way more of them than you’d like. These stories, which originally appeared in magazines such as Nerve, Backward City Review, and Hobart, take on a variety of pop culture types, including reality television, professional wrestling, and wedding DJs. Fortunately for us, Housley goes past the most obvious hipster-ironic observations and into the more earnest territories reserved for true pop culture fanatics.

In the story “Namaste, Bitches,” a reality dating show called Prince Charming II is down to its final three contestants, including the Nepalese “princess” Himani, who uses her exotic life story to first get on the show and then to make a run at winning the heart of Bruce, the titular Prince Charming. Like many of the more famous characters in Housley’s collection, Himani struggles with the popular idea of who she is, what she should be like, and how she should behave, contrasting it with the inner knowledge of who she really is.

Whether he’s describing Jimi Hendrix navigate a twelve-step program at the age of sixty-five in “Voodoo Chile Blues” or a professional wrestling announcer try to find a way out of the only life he’s known, Housley delivers not only biting commentary but a deep understanding of what it means for a person to be in the public eye every moment of every day. In “The Celebrity Orders Room Service,” he describes the celebrity state of mind in a memorable series of vignettes, including the following:

The celebrity is amazed and bored that people pay such close attention to her. On one hand, she cannot imagine following, scrutinizing, but more than anything else, caring about somebody she hasn’t dated or kissed or hung out with, somebody she has never even met, a picture in a magazine or a talking head on a movie screen. The idea is funny and inconceivably tragic.

On the other hand, it all seems so natural. Of course people want to know what clutch she’s carrying, who she’s wearing or dating or kissing or fighting. This is as it has always been. C’est la vie. It is what it is.

Still, it’s not all celebrity-endorsed exercise machines and rehab-inflected comebacks. Other stories tread less exotic ground, such as the refreshingly down-to-earth 9/11 story “Fall Apart” and the bittersweet “The Movie Soundtrack to Our Lives.” The best of these is the high-school drama “Are You Street or Popcorn?” Narrated by an unassuming high school vandal who carves slightly undecipherable phrases into his high school’s desks, the story deftly describes what happens when the narrator simultaneously discovers both a first girlfriend and a partner-in-crime in the aggressive transfer student named Dorothea Quan, who widens his minor vandalism campaign into a full-scale operation. The narrator struggles to balance his growing sense of wrongdoing and his blossoming feelings for Dorothea (who he describes as “getting cuter every day, like one of those pictures hidden inside another picture”), eventually becoming a kind of gloriously perfect ruin, romantic in a way that only high school really can be.

Housley’s ideal reader is perhaps the guy who live-blogs episodes of Battlestar Galactica or the girl who’s memorized every line of Dirty Dancing, but saying so runs the risk of making a joke that sells short how good a writer and satirist Housley is. At it’s best, Ryan Seacrest is Famous is both poignant and hilarious, inviting us past the velvet ropes and into the inner lives of our favorite celebrities and eventually to the truth about our own dreams and aspirations. The sooner you can read this book, the better— that way, when Housley’s famous, we can all talk about how we read him way back when, before he sold out. I think that’s the way he’d want it.

Full Disclosure: Dave Housley is the editor of Barrelhouse Magazine, which has published my own writing on two occasions.

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