Dominick Dunne's O.J. 'fiction': star-struck

December 07, 1997|By Elsbeth L. Bothe | Elsbeth L. Bothe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Another City, Not My Own: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir," by Dominick Dunne.Crown, 360 pages, $25.

This must be close to the hundredth book about the trials of Orenthal James Simpson, the subject continues to be as much a part of the literary landscape as the escapades of U.S. presidents. Few O.J. books are worth reading, and this one falls near the bottom of the pile.

Dominick Dunne is no stranger either to murder or celebrity glitz. He is an insider in the heady circles where gossip is newsworthy. Using a fictional format, he has written best-selling books based on elite true crimes. He covers high-profile trials for Vanity Fair, and is haunted by the 1983 murder in Los Angeles of his own daughter, stalked and strangled by an ex-boyfriend who got off with a light sentence.

For the trial's duration, Dunne lived and breathed O.J. to the exclusion of all else. Yet, between the experience and execution of his eagerly awaited book, the project went disastrously off track.

Dunne's original notion was to produce a "nonfiction novel" in the genre of Truman Capote's classic "In Cold Blood." But while Capote had the murders of the Clutter family to himself, there was unparalleled competition to get an original slant on O.J. After two years of groping, Dunne never found a focus.

First off, the book's orientation boggles the mind. Its narrator is the author, calling himself Gus Bailey, a name Dunne has used for his protagonist in other crime novels mentioned in this one. So we can never be certain which of three Dunne/Baileys is talking. Just about all of the other players in a huge cast, limited to famous figures with readily droppable names, appear without disguise. Reported events generally check out, but we can't rely on Bailey, who is conveniently free to lapse into fiction when the facts don't fit.

Serial killer Andrew Cunanan surfaces several times, even though he would not become notable until later with the murder of celebrity designer Gianni Versace. In the only place where Dunne definitely separates himself from the narrator, Bailey is murdered, with hints that Cunanan is a likely suspect. Cunanan's inclusion is evidence that, not long before publication date, Dunne still lacked direction.

There is the nauseating name-dropping. Dunne/Bailey can't use a urinal without standing next to a celebrity, or get his hair cut by a nobody.

The book starts from a fascinating true crime, and shifts into a tale about a person who is writing about a person who is writing a novel about the crime. In the end, nothing more is offered than Dunne's fanciful recollections of life on the O.J. planet, spoken as the drivel of an egomaniac. Unless one is a fanatical O.J. groupie or an inveterate star-gazer, "Another City, Not My Own" is no place to visit.

Elsbeth Bothe recently retired as a judge from the Baltimore Circuit Court, after spending 18 years on the bench. Before that she was a criminal defense lawyer.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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