The Assistant Novel tends to be a gleeful “Gotcha” of the publishing world — a parting shot from a former assistant to the famous boss who made their life hell (the 2003 novel “The Devil Wears Prada” is the gold standard of the genre). But even though “A Star is Bored” by Byron Lane (Henry Holt & Co.), out Tuesday, is about an assistant and his famous boss, this book is more of a sweet goodbye and an ode to friendship than a skewering — yet it delights nonetheless.
The book is a roman a clef based, in part, on Lane’s experience as a personal assistant to Carrie Fisher, who died in December 2016 at age 60. He worked for her from 2011 to 2014.
“It was my first assistant job and the best one ever,” he tells The Post.
In “A Star is Bored,” Charlie Besson is a young man desperate for a new gig and a new direction in life. He lands a job as personal assistant to Kathi Kannon, an actress best known for her role as Priestess Talara in a blockbuster sci-fi film. She’s a recovering bipolar drug addict whose mother Miss Gracie, also a famous actress in her heyday, lives in the same Hollywood compound. Charlie is initiated into the world of celebrity assistants — there’s even an Assistants Club that meets for drinks and commiseration — and as the weeks go by, he learns what it takes to succeed in a job with no real job description. (He begins writing his own Assistant Bible, filled with tips and how-tos, from his boss’ love of Coke Zero for breakfast to how to find her discontinued Tom Ford perfume.)
There are relapses and interventions — at one point, he realizes that Kathi’s frequent errands to a place she refers to as “Vegas” are, in fact, pill-purchasing runs — but there is also friendship, tenderness and a connection shared between two people.
While it’s a fictionalized account of his time with Fisher, the book is still packed with glorious scenes that really happened: such as the way Fisher always needed Christmas lights to decorate her hotel rooms.
“Like some people need a travel tube of toothpaste from Rite Aid, we always made a friendly stop anywhere they sold lights — especially the LED kind that came on a long roll,” says Lane. “She loved to string them across her hotel room. Nothing about Carrie was ever dull, or poorly lit.”
Or the time, during a trip to Japan, when Fisher and a friend went to an avant garde meal — where some of the dishes served were still alive.
“When they came back, Carrie’s purse was full of half-living pieces of sushi that she stuffed in there in a panic because she didn’t want to eat them, but she didn’t want to send them back to the kitchen so as not to offend anyone,” says Lane. “When she got back to the villa, it was my job to toss the critters into a river outside of our room. And then clean her purse. Working for her wasn’t always glamorous, but it was never boring.”
After his stint as Fisher’s assistant, Lane, now 42, went on to a successful and varied career in Hollywood, writing the quirky play “Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist,” which was performed at the Celebration Theatre at the Lex in Hollywood, writing and co-starring in the film “Herpes Boy,” starring Octavia Spencer, and a Web series, “Last Will & Testicle,” which dealt with his testicular-cancer diagnosis.
Writing the book was a therapeutic process, a way of paying tribute to an extraordinary woman and the role she played in his life.
“I wrote this book from the heart, which made the writing process pretty easy because I was just being honest in trying to honor the spirit of my time with Carrie — a time of joy and friendship,” he says.
“Thinking of all the fond memories I shared with her keeps her alive in my heart, and it warms me to think a small part of her is maybe also alive in the pages of this book.”
In one gorgeous scene which happened in real life, “Charlie” and “Kathi” travel to see the northern lights. “It was a last-minute trip triggered by a weather alert she got on her phone. It was freezing cold and I wasn’t prepared for that so she bought me a proper winter coat as soon as we landed,” he said.
“We went dog sledding to kill time during the day. And then we went to see the lights at night. It was a lifelong dream of hers. I feel so lucky I got to be there with her, standing on a frozen lake, watching her look up and marvel. She’d done and seen so many amazing things in her life by that point, it wasn’t every day I got to see her in such awe of something.”
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