The press notes describe Tony O’Neill’s new novel, Sick City, as “rollicking,” but a better description would be “barreling down Sunset Strip on meth at 90 mph.” O’Neill’s prose is something of a perpetual motion machine: As soon as he starts going, its energy is infinitely self-sustaining. It revitalizes the literary take on the junkie Los Angeles that exists beneath the burnt-out streetlights, the L.A. Jim Carroll claimed for his own, though O’Neill makes for a formidable heir to the throne. Sick City follows two desperate junkies (is there any other kind?) as they try to sell a notorious sex tape showing Steve McQueen, Mama Cass, Yul Brynner, and Sharon Tate banging the night away in a drug-fueled orgy. As the two try to outrun the consequences of their past actions, they encounter a more debauched and bizarre Hollywood underground than even Glenn Beck could hallucinate in his most paranoid fever dream. Previous O’Neill works such as Down and Out on Murder Mile and the autobiographical Digging the Vein basked in the type of acute attention to detail that demonstrates that a survivor is at work. That verisimilitude continues here, even as O’Neill’s narrative scope broadens. Despite his move from autobiography toward increasingly ambitious fiction, O’Neill is still turning out brutal, bracing stuff cut with a chaser of gallows humor.
Sat., July 31, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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