Eric Bogosian taps his dark side for his new novel, Wasted Beauty
In the Nasty Men Hall of Fame, Eric Bogosian's characters have their own room, if not their own wing. Ever since his days performing acerbic, aggressive solo shows in New York City (most famously Talk Radio), Bogosian has given voice to the male at his worst.
"Back when The Vagina Monologues was in vogue, people always told me I should write The Penis Monologues," he says. "I said, 'I did. I've been writing penis monologues since 1978.'"
In his new novel, Wasted Beauty (Simon & Schuster, $24), the protagonist Rena is surrounded by nasty men—a likely fate given her profession as a model. Her brother Billy is an alcoholic brute with crumbling sanity; her first boss, Frank, is a manipulative weasel. And then there's Rick. He's a middle-aged doctor who actively fantasizes about cheating on his wife, but only makes quarter-hearted attempts until Rena seduces him.
Bogosian says the novel was a collision of two ideas. Rena's character came from the research he did for an unproduced screenplay about Gia Carangi, the renowned model who died of AIDS in 1986. Rick came from, well, the author's status as middle-aged and married.
"I didn't go through the things that happened in the story, but I went through a lot of the attitudes in the story," says the 52-year-old writer, who has been married for 25 years. "I was rethinking the whole thing: 'What is this I'm in? How did I end up here?'"
Rena starts out as a rural New Yorker who heads into the city each week with her brother to sell apples. She wanders off one night while he's drunk in a bar, and Billy abandons her so he can continue his bender. After a rough first night alone in the city, a fashion photographer discovers her while she's walking down the street. Rena is then thrown into the milk-every-drop world of modeling, and she tumbles headlong into that scene's requisite drug use.
Putting Rena and Rick together—and watching them explore their fractured moralities—allows Bogosian to tease out some of the middle-aged attitudes and lusts without writing a strictly autobiographical character.
"I have nothing to do with even the characters behind the characters," he says. "I have sort of a public persona as this sort of cynical and dark person. And none of this is really true, but I play it really well."
It's true. On the phone, Bogosian is funny and amicable, a far cry from the antagonistic cad he readily assumes on stage or screen. He laughs while discussing his wife, theater director Jo Bonney. He says she's grown tired of all his talk of May-December eyeballing.
"My sexual fantasies, especially my sexual fantasies about young, gorgeous models, are about as interesting to her as my bowel movements," he says. "They're necessary, but she doesn't have to like them. The last few plays I've written, and this book, have been this purging that I have to get out of myself about these older guys and younger women. She asks me, 'Are you going to be done with this theme pretty soon?'"
Bogosian will read from Wasted Beauty at Barbara's Bookstore on Monday 9 at 7:30pm.