Get Lit: First Assistant, Second Assistant

Houston's freakily cool spring held me back a bit from starting The First Assistant -- when a paperback has a back-cover blurb saying, "Make sure it is at the very top of your beach bag" (Chicago Tribune), you want to make sure you're saving it for poolside perusal.

But a recent spate of sunny, warmer weather prompted me to plunge into both a chilly pool and this book, which was initially as off-putting as the water, what with both being about as cold as Austin's infamous Barton Springs. When you've got a duck-out-of-water-type heroine touted as a "smart, witty East Coast girl" who's braved the backstage in beautifully banal and botoxed Hollywood, you just know you're in for a lot of unwarranted New York snobbery. But Lizzie Miller hails from the Washington, D.C. area -- and of course, no one there thinks they have the world by the balls.

Lizzie, who leaves a political internship on Capitol Hill to take a much more political job as an assistant at an uber-agency to the stars is a much more humble heroine than I expected; a real bumblebuss -- Ivy League degree be damned. There's just enough pratfalls a la I Love Lucy in between biting social commentary to lend humanity to Ms. East Coast. You gotta love her travails, fending off a bisexual Britney Spears type while on location in Thailand, sharing a diet of only Brussels sprouts to keep the actress in fighting trim (pun? What pun?) and attending well-meaning Malibu fundraisers with the theme "Mojitos to End Third-World Debt." (Lizzie leaves the latter debacle with her sidekick, an agent's wife, after unmasking an adultress; they later order Mojitos and rehash the events, "saving nobody's lives but our own."

And who hasn't struggled with balancing glamour and good will; common sense and acting common? I got hooked and promptly bought the first book, named (aptly but dylexically enough) The Second Assistant, because after all, Lizzie gets a promotion. The second book, The First Assistant doesn't refer back much to the first book, The Second Assistant, so there's some seeming randomness in the second, like the two valet parking attendants (at her office!!), both named Jose, who suddenly in the second book adopt the persona as sages amongst the saguaros: "The Joses had never been wrong before." It's only in the first book that you learn they acted as mentors. (Where else but Hollywood could parking valets achieve guru status, right?)

Another difference between the two books: Lizzie arrives in Hollywood as an unsung babe, but those who read the second book first likely will be as baffled as I to learn she's a looker. Both books are studded with nuggets dropped on a first-name basis (how many Camerons are there in Hollywood?) to sate celebrity addicts, because the gossip's probably all true, anyway. It's cowritten by an actual ex-movie executive and an actual chick-lit novelist -- both of whom are strangely enough, tres photogenic.

Lizzie (or the authors) have so much of a hangup about diamonds that the gems almost form a subplot, but both books are themselves diamonds, sparkling in the cubic zirconian-studded mine of chick lit genre. --Bobette Riner

The First Assistant, and The Second Assistant, by Clare Naylor and Mimi Hare, Plume [Penguin], $14.00.

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