EXCLUSIVE: "Beneath A Starlet Sky" Excerpt

04/26/2011 07:42 am ET | Updated Jun 26, 2011

New York Times bestselling authors of "Celebutantes," Amanda Goldberg and Ruthanna Khalighi Hopper, return with a dazzling new novel set among the star-studded crowds of the Cannes Film Festival, where everyone’s hoping to discover, sign, screw or become the Next Big Thing. And a three-picture deal would be nice. "Beneath A Starlet Sky" comes out April 26th!

“Shabbat Santisi shalom,” my mother says excitedly as she flings her arms open to embrace my boyfriend Lev. Her usually frizzy blond hair has been tamed into a smooth up-do. And she really overdid the makeup tonight. Her blue eyes are loaded down with smoky shadow and reams of mascara. “You must be Lev.”

“Shabbat Santisi shalom?!” I say. “What’s going on, Mom?”

“We’re all so busy these days, it’s easy to forget the importance of family,” Mom says. The family she leaves behind for Deeksha retreats in India, colon cleanses at We Care in Desert Hot Springs, and when she’s home— the Byron & Tracey Salon for daily hair and makeup? That family?

“It’s lovely to meet you, Mrs. Santisi. If I’d known this was a Shabbat dinner I would have brought matzoh ball soup,” Lev says.

“That’s so sweet of you, Lev. And please, call me Blanca. But I actually made the matzoh ball soup myself,” my mother says proudly.

“You what?!” I exclaim. “Who are you and what’d you do with my mother?”

“Oh, Lola, you’re such a silly!” she says, smiling off into the distance. Who is she looking for? “Do you like my outfit? It’s a Bedouin gown I picked up in Israel when I was on that pilgrimage to the Red Sea,” she says. Pilgrimage? What pilgrimage? The only pilgrimage my mother takes is to Rodeo Drive for the trunk shows. “Alex, Alex darling, where are you? You’re missing the moment,” my mother suddenly yells.

“Alex? Who’s Alex, Mom?”

But before my mother has time to answer, a scruffy-haired, thirty-something man in gray cords and a black hoodie wielding a video camera comes running into the room, accompanied by an equally scruffy guy carrying a boom and another carrying a light.

“Oh, darling, didn’t I tell you? Alex is my wonderful, wonderful cameraman. Now, don’t you mind him one bit. Just pretend he isn’t even here.” Mom turns to Alex. “Are you rolling?” Alex buries his eye behind the lens and gives her a thumbs-up. Suddenly my mother throws herself around Lev. “We are so glad to finally meet you,” she says.
“Welcome to our humble home! Shabbat Santisi shalom!”

“Mom, can I have a word with you outside?” I ask.

“Darling, there’s nothing that you can’t say to me here, in front of Alex’s camera. This is a reality show. The realer the better.”

Stupid, stupid me. I actually believed that this evening was about Lev and me. Of course it’s not. It’s about her—and Wristwatch Wives, her new reality TV show. Mom is coproducer and costar.

“Mom, outside. Now,” I demand, dragging her by her Bedouin gown until we’re outside the front door of Chez Santisi (aka Chez Insane Asylum) and away from Alex’s prying lens. “The cameras? Tonight? So this is why you finally wanted to meet Lev? To get footage for your damn show?”

My mother drags me away from the front door. “It’s always been about your father. I want out of that shadow.” And if anyone can understand wanting that—it’s me. “The network says if we don’t grab viewers in the first two weeks, we’re dead for pickup for the next season.” Mom grabs up my hand and drags me back to the front door, her face softening in a smile. “Just think: if you end up marrying Lev, we’ll have all this footage of the first time he met your family to show your children.”

“Why do you keep looking above my head?” I ask. And as I follow her eye line I notice something new by the front door, and it’s not a mezuzah: it’s a camera.

“Jesus, Mom!?”

“Oh, just pretend they’re part of the woodwork. Now can we please just go inside and try and have a nice time?” my mother says. “Please, honey, for me?”

“Okay, Mom, I guess,” I say, thinking about how my mother has indeed always been the silent force behind my father, who’s always grabbed 100 percent of the spotlight. It would be nice for my mother to have her shot at creating something. “But let me just check with Lev to see if he’s okay with it.”

“Thanks, sweetheart,” Mom says, fishing around in her caftan pocket. “And would you mind having him sign this little release, please?”

“I’m so sorry,” I whisper to Lev as I walk back inside. “I didn’t think she’d be filming tonight,” I whisper to Lev. “Are you okay?”

“Yes. Stop worrying about me. I’m fine. Are you okay?”

As long as you don’t let go of my hand,” I say as we follow my mother into the dining room, where the gang’s already seated at the dining table. My brother Christopher is slumped back in his chair, one hand placed on Kate’s thigh, my best friend since age sixteen and Christopher’s girlfriend, the other brushing back his disheveled sandy hair. Kate’s sneaking a peek at the BlackBerry she has resting in her lap, her intense blue eyes accentuated by her slicked-back chestnut ponytail. The strumming of my father’s impatient fingers on the table is the only sound in the room. He hasn’t taken his white Panama hat off, and I see that he has bare feet beneath the orange sarong he’s wearing. He looks like when he woke up this morning he mistook Bel Air for Havana.

“I’d like to do a Shabbat prayer. Please, everyone, hold hands,” my mother instructs as she lights the ridiculously expensive Diptych candles she uses for her weekly Goddess meetings instead of Shabbat ones. I look sideways at her with those eerie camera lenses peering on and I’m beginning to wonder who the director is at this table. It’s certainly not my father, who takes that moment to clamp down on that cigar between his teeth.

“Why is this night unlike any other night?” my mother says, her head bowed solemnly into her chest.

“Mom, I’m pretty sure that’s Passover,” I interrupt.

“Oh geezus, Blanca,” my father bellows. “Is this all really necessary? You already took these fucking cameras to Al’s birthday party last night at DeNiro’s house. Enough is enough. Can’t we just eat?”

“Mom, when did you decide to take up Judaism?” Christopher chimes in.

“I’ve always been very identified with my Judaism,” my mother says, shooting Christopher a slightly warning glance.

“Yeah, you love Goldie Hawn,” I say.

“And the lox from Nate ’n Al’s,” Christopher adds.

“I never take off my Star of David,” Mom says, stroking the Jen Meyer gold design around her neck—which I’ve never seen her wear before. Ever. “And I go to mass as often as possible,” she adds vehemently.

“Mom, you mean ‘services,’” I say. “It’s not called mass. Mass is for Catholics. We’re Jewish. They’re called ‘services.’”

“Now please, all of you, shut up and let me get back to praying,” my mother demands with a sideways glance to the cameras as she bows her chin back to her chest.

“Get that fucking thing out of my face,” my father yells at Alex, who’s gotten a little too close. “Come on, Blanca,” he continues. “This is absolutely ridiculous. Can we please just eat and get this done with.”

“All right, all right,” she says, waving her arms in the air and rushing into the kitchen, quickly reappearing with a tureen of matzoh ball soup. “Honey, could you give me a hand with the platters on the counter?” she asks.

“Where’s Lorena?” I ask, looking around for Nanny No. 9—the last nanny in the string that raised Chris and me and stayed on after we left to be my parents’ housekeeper.

“Never mind,” my mother says, quickly swatting away my inquiry because she obviously wants to appear to be a Hollywood-Housewife- Who-Has-No-Help. Is this a joke?

“Let me help you, Mom,” I say, getting up from the table and returning with the two silver platters.

“Mmmmm, lobster ravioli,” Kate says. “This looks fabulous, Blanca!”

“And pork cheeks,” my mother adds as she leans over Lev to serve him.

“Even the shiksa knows this isn’t what you’d call a kosher meal,” Kate whispers to Christopher.

And then Lev leans into me and whispers, “Isn’t it a bit odd to be eating pork at Shabbat dinner?”
“If that’s all you think is odd, we’re in good shape,” I whisper back, putting my hand on his knee beneath the table and mouthing “I’m sorry.”

From Beneath a Starlet Sky by Amanda Goldberg and Ruthanna Khalighi Hopper. Copyright © 2011 by the authors and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.