BOOKS: Hollywood Babble-On

John Gregory Dunne uses up all the movie gossip he knows

The most perplexing beach read of the summer is a train wreck of a novel by John Gregory Dunne, a very good writer (True Confessions, Harp) whose fiction usually stays nicely on the rails. Trying to figure out what went wrong with Playland (Random House; 494 pages; $25) should keep writers' workshops twittering until Norman Mailer publishes his next thousand pager.

Hollywood in the '30s and '40s is the novel's principal setting, though the ramified and exceedingly tenuous plot spreads across the U.S. and into the '90s. Dunne invents a child star named Blue Tyler (born Melba Mae Toolate, or perhaps...

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