Book Review: The Cult of Truland

The glittery SoCal celeb set turns dark in this mystery with a satirical edge

<i>The Cult of Truland</i>

The Cult of Truland

by Kevin Brass
Glowing Sand Media, 350 pp., $15.95 (paper)

For several entertaining years (2004-10), Kevin Brass was the Chronicle's media reporter, delivering sharp insight and breezy bons mots, as in his profile of Bush press secretary and former San Diegan PR lady Dana Perino: "Relaxed and confident at the podium, she appears not to possess the sweat gene, an essential gift for a spokesperson." Brass has traveled the world and soaked up a wide range of pop culture, and it sparkles over the edges of his first novel.

At first, The Cult of Truland, set in southern California, reads like a frothy beach book, albeit with an undertow that grows stronger as it goes on. Nominally, it's the story of Jake Truland (not, of course, his "real" name), one of the modern era's celebrities famous for, well, being celebrities. Jake is sort of a writer, known for a booklike object called The Book of Truisms – apparently a collection of aphorisms about fame and its amusements. Otherwise, his means of support are a little vague – "I'm famous, not rich," he tells a casino owner trying pointedly to reinforce Jake's focus on his putative current employment, steering celebrities to the penthouse suite.

A dark thread runs through the otherwise lighthearted narrative, which opens with a mysterious fire at Truland's beach home and is intermittently marked by flying bullets, blackmail, a car chase or two, even a congressional investigation. It's all good publicity, thinks Jake, until these seemingly inconsequential episodes suddenly begin to have real consequences, first to strangers and then to the handful of people closest to him – themselves strangers to the world of "celebrity." (Austin has a sentimental cameo as a place in flyover country where, presumably, sanity and common sense still reign. Brass may have a soft spot for us, but I suspect he could set a novel here that would generate plenty of satirical bite.)

"What I did, my line of work ... I thought it was fun and there was no harm," Truland tells a bloviating congressman. "I was wrong. It has repercussions.... People have died. I have to come to grips with that." Jake does, apparently, come to grips with the repercussions of his paparazzi'd life, although Brass is coy about the final outcome and the book's "mysteries" are never quite solved. I could imagine Jake returning as a reluctant Lew Archer, stumbling over famous bodies and trying to sort out the wicked from the good. I hope he does.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Summer reading
Getaways Far, Far Away
Getaways Far, Far Away
Summer reading recommendations that will take you out of this world

Robert Faires, June 17, 2016

Getaways Far, Far Away
Dark Run
Mike Brooks' ragtag gang on a galactic smuggling mission may seem familiar (cough, Firefly), but you'll love 'em all the same

Rosalind Faires, June 17, 2016

More Summer Fun 2015
Summer's Easy Readin'
Summer's Easy Readin'
Writers on their go-to books for when their gray cells need a vacay, too

Robert Faires, June 12, 2015

Put a Cape on It
Put a Cape on It
Donning Layers of Costumery May Reveal Layers of Secret Identities

Jessi Cape, May 15, 2015

More Arts Reviews
<i>The Teacher</i> by Michal Ben-Naftali
The Teacher
This prize-winning novel's tale of a student piecing together the hidden life of her teacher, a Holocaust survivor who killed herself, is haunting

Jay Trachtenberg, Feb. 14, 2020

<i>The Dutch House</i> by Ann Patchett
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
In her eighth novel, Ann Patchett shows that what makes a family cannot be measured by the grandness of a house

Yvette Benavides, Oct. 4, 2019

More by Michael King
Eddie Rodriguez Concedes Senate Race to Sarah Eckhardt
Eddie Rodriguez Concedes Senate Race to Sarah Eckhardt
Longtime House rep foregoes run-off, emphasizes Dem party unity

July 31, 2020

Eddie Rodriguez Ends Senate Campaign
Rodriguez Ends Campaign
"I have decided to forego the run-off for Senate …"

July 27, 2020


Summer reading, Summer Fun 2015, Kevin Brass, celebrity culture, mystery fiction

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle