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Hollywood Savage

A Novel


A scalding exploration of love, marriage, fidelity, and betrayal.

            “Meet me at five,”
the voice said on the answering machine.  Four ordinary words yet, when heard by the wrong person, enough to change the course of a marriage.
             Marooned in Hollywood while writing a screenplay based on his latest bestselling novel, Miles King records in his journals his escalating conviction that his glamorous wife, a New York-based journalist named Maggie, is having an affair with Miles’s favorite student.  
            Amidst the sun-buffed egos and the longing for connection and fame he encounters at every cocktail party and no-name bar in Hollywood, Miles finds unexpected comfort in an affair of his own with Lucy, a young mother whose open, eager mind sparks an irresistible passion in him. A potent brew of lust, guilt, anger, and betrayal, Miles’s journals reveal his constantly shifting emotional state and the perils he must navigate as his fantasies become increasingly hard to distinguish from reality.
            In Hollywood Savage, acclaimed novelist Kristin McCloy probes one modern man’s psychological depths with stunning accuracy, and illuminates the ways men and women try desperately to reveal themselves to one another, while still always keeping a part of their hearts a secret.  

Kristin McCloy was born in San Francisco and spent her childhood in Spain, India, and Japan.  A graduate of Duke University, she is the author of the novels Velocity and Some Girls.  Her novels have been published in more than fifteen countries.  She currently lives in Oakland, California.

This reading group guide for Hollywood Savage includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kristin McCloy. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 



Miles King is a well-known author who finds himself headed for the big time when his popular book is pegged to become a film. Holed up in the Hollywood Hills as he works on the first draft of his screenplay, Miles suffers from writer’s block and a host of other insecurities, including the nagging fear that his wife is having an affair. Slowly he spirals into a world of lies and manipulation, drugs and sex—all of which he faithfully records in daily entries in his journal.

Eventually, Miles fears about his wife’s possible adultery, coupled with his own sense of crippling loneliness, drive him into the arms of Lucy, a Nietzsche-reading wife and mother who’s looking to be saved from her own list of grievances. As Lucy and her son, Walter, gradually enter Miles’s life, the two adults find themselves moving inexorably into a passionate love affair, a potent broth of guilt, infidelity, and loss—one that will change both of their lives forever.


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1.      Miles King can come across as brash, and he often makes choices that are less than honorable. But he can also be brutally honest about himself and his own failings. Did you find yourself put off by some of his less admirable characteristics? Did you give him credit for attempting to be honest about his own shortcomings?

2.      Some of the characters in the novel pride themselves on their honest, unflinching self-awareness. The novel is, in fact, Miles’s scrupulously maintained diary, and he consistently notes how forthright and direct both Maggie and Lucy can be. Yet characters rarely tell the truth. What do you think this says about these characters and their perceptions of themselves? Also, what do you think of Isabel and Walter, the only two people in the book who actually seem to say what they mean?

3.      The catalyst that sets this story in motion and causes Miles’s “lost weekend” in Los Angeles is an answering machine message from Connor asking Maggie to meet him. Why do you think Miles never asks Maggie about this message and whether or not she’s having an affair?

4.      The book compares LA and New York City extensively, with New York coming out as a clear favorite. In the debate of real vs. fake, do you think LA seems as fake as Miles says it is? Discuss this in relation to the people that Miles meets there: Lear, Lucci, Bonnie, etc. Also consider Miles’s relationship with Lucy. Are there aspects of their relationship that seem false or self-serving?

5.      Why do you think McCloy chose to write an epistolary novel rather than opting for a more standard literary format? Did you find that the journal entries, with their shorthanded, off-the-cuff familiarity, drew you into the story and helped you to understand what drives Miles to make the choices he makes?

6.      Miles writes and thinks a lot about fame and its meaning; “. . . I’ve become acquainted with the peculiar greed for attention that any kind of public praise seems to incite…ultimately it can only be weakness” (p. 31). Do you think Miles is a weak person? Does striving for personal recognition in the public arena, on a large or small scale, make a person weak?

7.      Lucy constantly tells Miles how awful she feels about cheating on her husband, and yet she continues to do so. In fact, most of her feelings of guilt seem to spring up when she finds herself in very intimate situations with Miles. Discuss these conflicting emotions. Is it possible for a person to act in direct contrast to their emotions? To do one thing and say another, all the while believing that both are correct?

8.      Almost the entirety of the novel takes place as Miles attempts to adapt his critically acclaimed novel for the big screen, and yet we’re never treated to any samples of his writing—only his journal entries. What do you imagine Miles’s book to be? Do you think there is any significance in the fact that Miles gives his main character the name of Savage?

9.       The characters of Walter and Connor occupy an interesting place in the story. In some ways Miles loves both of them, and yet his love doesn’t seem entirely appropriate. After all, Walter is another man’s son and Connor has possibly slept with Miles’s wife. Why do you think Miles feels an attachment to both of these young men? Is it possible that they remind him of himself in some way?

10.   The topic of love is much discussed throughout the course of the novel, ranging from cynical, “love is a conspiracy” (p. 286) to romantic and maybe even a little bit naïve, “love should pull you further toward selflessness” (p.319). What do you think Miles’s final stance is on love? Considering Miles and his relationships with Maggie and Lucy, do you think it’s possible that different people need to be loved in different ways?

11.   Miles and Lucy have multiple discussions about language, etymology, and how language is used as a means of both describing one’s innermost thoughts and also of concealing them. Taking into account Miles’s chosen profession, do you think he is writing in an attempt to understand himself more fully, or are his journal entries a way of hiding his own thoughts from himself?

12.   Miles often compares Lucy and Maggie. Discuss their similarities and differences. Does it make sense that Miles would fall in love with both of these women?

13.   At one point Lucy tells Miles, “You imagine everything about me” (p. 51). Do you think this is true? Does Miles will people into playing certain roles, whether they want to or not? Does Miles turn real life into fiction?

14.   At the end of the novel Miles and Maggie seem to be headed for reconciliation. Do you think this is possible, or have they become too firmly ensconced in their new, separate lives? Do you think that Maggie’s supposed affair with Connor, as well as Miles’s own infidelities, will still plague their relationship, or do they matter anymore?


Enhance Your Book Club

1.      There are many books, movies, and TV shows that take an inside look at the moviemaking business and all of its highs and lows. Seek out some of these for a different perspective on the industry and life in Hollywood. How do they compare with Hollywood Savage? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Play It as It Lays
Singin’ in the Rain
The Player
Short Cuts
Postcards from the Edge
Annie Hall
Mulholland Dr.
Ed Wood
Swimming with Sharks
Sunset Boulevard
L.A. Confidential

2.      Many writers have encountered difficulties when working in Hollywood, including William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as more contemporary authors like John Irving. Research some popular movie adaptations of books you’ve read and see how faithful the film stayed to its source material. Then ask yourself that age-old question: Which is better, the book or the movie?

3.      If you were a Hollywood director, who would you cast in the roles of Miles, Maggie, and Lucy? Why?

4.      The debate between New York City and Los Angeles—which is better?—has been raging pretty much since the Dodgers hightailed it out of Brooklyn and headed for the balmy LA climate. Now that you’ve heard Miles’s opinions on the topic, it’s your turn to weigh in. If you had to choose between NYC and LA, which would you pick and why?

A Conversation with Kristin McCloy

Q. At one point in the novel, Lucy wonders if it’s okay to ask Miles how much of his book is autobiographical and he responds, “You may not.” Do you also bristle when people ask how much of your work is autobiographical? In the case of a book like Hollywood Savage, do you have to make a conscious effort to separate your personal life from your work?

A. Well, I think the book speaks for itself. I’m not a man; neither am I—nor was I—separated from my spouse while suspecting infidelity and adapting a bestseller (that hasn’t—yet—been my privilege) for the screen, nor have I ever worked with a European director. Basically, I always try to find some way that will automatically turn what I’m writing (particularly in the first person, which does make it hard not to identify) into fiction, not journalism.


Q. The book criticizes Los Angeles and Los Angelnos. What is it about the city that rubs Miles the wrong way? Do you share Miles’s opinion on the city and its inhabitants?

A. Absolutely, I do. I found LA to be a one-trick pony (“the Industry”—nothing but TV and movies) and the people who lived there all enslaved to the notion of fame, ranking everyone according to their position in the fame line. Everybody was thinner, younger, and cooler than thou; worst of all, the only possible reaction to this was to act just like them. “Hey, you turn your nose up at me when I walk into a dining or drinking establishment, and then immediately your back? Well, fine, I’m not in any way interested in you, either.” Thus, nobody interacted. It was all emotional detachment and disdain. After a while, it was very difficult not to take it as a blow to your self-esteem; you simply were not worthy.


Q. Early in the novel Miles mentions the “writer’s fury to get it down” (p. 10). What does “it” mean to you? Do you think you captured “it” with this novel and this particular set of characters?

A. “It,” I guess, is what you feel particularly passionate about—in this case, I would have to say I was trying to get at the root of infidelity, from every angle possible: from the plot of Miles’s own book (the young man in it, whose name is Savage, becomes a double agent when forced by the CIA—who imply his own now-dead father told them where he could be found—to work for them during the Vietnam War, ultimately defies this dictum by becoming a double agent, something Lucci refers to as “monstrous”). And the adultery is compounded; not only does Miles cheat on his wife, he cheats on his mistress too, as if the latter will cancel out the former. My own question, I think, was ultimately this: Should one be true to one’s vows, said long ago, or to one’s self right now? (Or, put another way, was Shakespeare right when he wrote, “To thine own self be true”?).


Q. Miles can occasionally be a difficult character to root for. Could you discuss some of the difficulties that arise from writing a character who isn’t always likable? Were there times when you yourself didn’t like Miles much?

A. I must confess, I never found Miles unlikable. I think he’s just a human being, who has every human being’s weaknesses and ambiguities, who is reacting to his own feelings—of course it’s not rational, necessarily, but isn’t that the definition of emotion? I also think that this tendency to sanctify and idolize the main character is very much a Hollywood thing; it is just verboten ever to let us see the lead in any other context than likeable, and frankly, I think that’s nonsense—who is likable all the time? Do you yourself always act beautifully to other people, never gossip maliciously, never goad or gloat, never be pompous or hateful or envious? What person doesn’t have a dark side? Nobody I’ve met, myself included. 


Q. The book has a very distinct male voice at its center. Did you find it at all difficult as a writer to write a character of the opposite sex?

A. None. When people have asked me the same question previously, I liked to quip, “No, because I realized I may not have a man’s main equipment, but I do have balls.” I know that makes it sound trivial, but in effect, it’s as close to the truth as any other answer.


Q. Miles really runs through a wide gamut of emotions in this book, and most of them are less than pleasant. Did you ever find yourself becoming emotionally involved or affected by what he was going through—what you were putting him through?

A. I don’t think the rough patches of life—for example, doubting your wife, then acting the way you think she is (a form of revenge)—are “ever less than pleasant.” Who, after all, has never been pushed into a corner, made to feel low, filled with doubt, and found themselves reacting according to the saying, “The best defense is a good offense”? (Especially true, I think, for men.) No, I wouldn’t say “less than pleasant”; I think the more accurate term is more like devastation, the shaking of one’s identity’s cornerstone, a form of desperation. Then again, that’s where the real drama lies; who after all wants to read about someone whose life is all sunshine and roses? Wouldn’t that character be the truly hateful one?


Q. Why did you choose not to divulge whether or not Maggie and Connor actually had an affair?

A. I was writing from Miles’s point of view, and since he refused to confront his wife directly, even cutting her off when it seemed she was about to confess, he himself never knows for sure. The reason for his inability to confront the question is twofold: first, if she says she is, he, as a proud male, would have no choice but to say “then it’s divorce.” And second, he is not ready to cut her off, to let her go. He has loved her too long. And let’s not forget at that point that he is deep into his own affair; how can he castigate or confront or convict his wife when he is behaving exactly as he believes she is? It would make him truly hateful: a real hypocrite. So he refuses to bring everything out into the open—the only result of such behavior is surely nothing but destruction.


Q. At one point Lucy says that she hopes all of her philosophy classes will teach her to “learn how to die.” Can you elaborate on this? What does this mean in the context of Lucy’s character?

A. Maybe here I do veer into autobiography; I was a philosophy and psychology double major at Duke, and I came to that same conclusion (re: philosophy) on my own; and I think, insofar as Lucy is concerned, she is trying, in as clear-eyed a way as possible, to address and confront her own—everybody’s own—inexorable fate: mortality. She refuses to deny its absolute reality, or to pretend it does not exist. She is trying as hard as she can to prepare herself for it, and she is exploring every philosopher’s point of view throughout the ages, trying all the while to distill her own.


Q. Your writing has such a specific edge to it. Are there any writers that you’re particularly fond of or whom you had in mind while writing this book?

A. Actually, while I have often had certain novelists right next to my laptop while I worked (and no, I will not say whom), this time the inspiration for the voice actually came from my own—the one I found while flipping through twelve or more years’ worth of journals. As they went along, I found my own writing becoming more and more telegraphic, the sentences shorter, skipping the dreary details, getting right to the point (which, in itself, I think came from writing with a pen rather than a computer); I got impatient with how slowly I could get my own thoughts down, and simply trimmed what I wanted to say to the absolutely essential. Details were skimmed, and non sequiturs abounded. At times, especially in the later journals, I found the writing almost startling; I did not remember having written them (always, I think, a good sign), and I found I really liked the style. So, no, this time I had no one to rely on but my own self (talk about scary!).


Q. The characters in this novel have a real dexterity with words. Language is their emotional currency and, in some cases, their livelihood. And yet, when it comes to the most basic questions, they all seem to be at a loss. I’m reminded of Maggie and Miles’s confrontation in the car after their disastrous dinner in LA. Maggie is really trying to communicate something to Miles but can’t find the words. Are you trying to say something here about those people who devote themselves to the use and manipulation of language?

A. Just because you can be the soul of erudition on the page does not mean that, having come to your own crossroads in life, you are not rendered speechless yourself. Being flooded with a lot of different emotions all at once tends (at least it does in my own experience) to render us unable to speak.


Q. This is your third book. Are you working on anything new?

A. First of all, this is a question one should never, ever, ask a writer (actually, it’s okay to ask about theme; it’s the “Are you writing?” question that really turns us murderous). Second, yes, I am. I want to write a book of interconnected short stories using the same characters in Hollywood Savage (Miles, Maggie, Lucy, Izzy) in other times of their lives, both past and future, but I am trying to write it so that you don’t need to have read this book to enjoy the next. Pray for me.

"Instantly contagious...A deliciously told story filled with wonderfully rich, accurate, and energetic prose...Electric from the first page on...tinglingly erotic..."
—Madison Smartt Bell in The Chicago Tribune

"Lovely and passionate urban love song."
The New York Times Book Review

"A palpitating story of a girl's movement into darkness and light."
—Pico Iyer

"Vivid...a detailed and ambitious plot with sharp dialogue."
Los Angeles Times

"A high speed tale of loss, lust and love."