Based on a True Story is Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti’s debut novel, the premise of which promises a fun romp through the harsh light of celebrity, crumbling newspaper journalism, the salve of intoxicants, and the nature of truth.
Washed-up former soap star Augusta Price is a larger-than-life force, an aging beauty fresh off a failed rehab attempt and looking for a new role. She’s unemployed, estranged from her son, and riding the wave of a surprisingly successful (if selective) memoir. When Augusta meets American tabloid journalist Frances Bleeker, she learns that an old lover is writing a book. Fearing it could be the tell-all she avoided writing, Augusta drags Frances on a pill-laced, booze-soaked journey from London to California to make sure the whole truth of her story never sees the light of day. What results is an odd sort of female adventure; two very different women, both unlucky in love, hopeless and hopeful in their own unique ways, forging an unlikely friendship over mini-bar cocktails in shared hotel rooms.
Powered by quick-fire dialogue and cartoonish, flamboyant characters, Renzetti deftly renders disparate personality types who are lovable despite (or, in some cases, because of) their myriad failings. The book’s flaw is that it never seems to reach full clip; its plot is simply not substantial enough to gain the momentum these characters deserve. Renzetti has done a nice job creating vibrant scenes, but they fail to coalesce into a larger narrative.
On the other hand, Renzetti succeeds in showcasing the unreliable nature of storytelling. In one tableau, Augusta quips to a beleaguered Frances, “Darling, no one wants the facts of life. They want the story.” This idea is at the core of Renzetti’s tale. Telling one’s own story is a powerful gesture, and the author has managed to relay that notion in a fun, frolicking way, through the lens of an unlikely yet tender female friendship.