Books & Stuff

I thought I would be reading a western when I selected “Return to Casa Grande” by Michael Carlon, but the only thing western about it was the California location. Although it may not been what I expected, it was entertaining.

Twenty-five years ago a TV show named “Casa Grande” was all the rage. It featured the lives of a wine growing dynasty with a stern matriarch, troublesome son, mischievous daughter, loyal vineyard manager and his devastatingly handsome son. It was a soap opera of the highest order and fans were outraged when it was canceled in favor of a more “youth oriented” program.

Its stars are mostly forgotten when a fluke brings them back into the spotlight. Allison Hart is a Harvard Business School grad with plenty of ambition. Her job at UPC is both challenging and frustrating as she’s expected create a “program” that will give maximum exposure to a sponsor’s products.

That’s how she became acquainted with T-Bang aka Thaddeus Stevens. He’s the 18 year old son of a former TV star and he’s become famous for his many over the top antics in Hollywood.

Allison has created a show that would use minimally invasive cameras to follow T-Bang and his entourage on their escapades. The sponsor’s body products are prominently placed and well used in each episode. The show quickly becomes a smash hit and sales soar.

Now Allison’s boss wants her to come up with another hit. As she racks her brain to find a viable idea a chance event sets things into motion for her next project.

Blaze Hazelwood was once the star of Casa Grande. Unlike his co-stars, he’d held onto his money and was still working doing voice overs for cartoons. He longed to get back in front of the camera, but his useless agent hasn’t found him much work, though he often suggests doing reality TV; Blaze detests reality TV and flatly refuses.

One night his neighbors have a big party and one of his windows is broken. He goes out to confront the neighbor and ends up being part of T-Bang’s “Bling it On” show. Within hours, he’s popular again.

That’s when Allison decides to create a show that features the cast of Casa Grande as they return to the mansion and recreate various scenes from the original shows. Viewers would vote for the best actor in each episode. The other actors are eager to sign on.

One has an alcohol problem. One is being evicted. One’s been stuck in an old folks home because he occasionally strips naked and walks away. One hit rock bottom and ended up as a priest, but he’s been framed for breaking his vows and has been defrocked. Only Blaze holds out until he meets Allison.

There’s an instant connection between them that surprises both of them. Things become laughable and crazy when UPC gathers the actors at the mansion for public relations interviews. Simple questions get unexpected answers. Comments quickly become nasty and past secrets burst into the open.

When the melee is over many truths, both good and bad are revealed. In the end, we see that real life can be far more interesting that any reality show.

If you like stories that are real, the nonfiction section at your public library has plenty to choose from. All you have to do is drop by and check it out.