THE TV TRIAL is our modern morality play, in which others' passions serve as the measure of our own. So Gary Indiana's choice to build his brilliant satiric novel around the spectacle of a popular murder trial opens a national vein. What spills out is Resentment, a demi-thriller that follows the progress of a New York writer sent to L.A. to cover the Martinez brothers' trial: a parental double-murder committed by two wealthy Beverly Hills kids. But the trial is only one of the stories here. Spliced in with it are various less-public intrigues: an actress blackmailed by a drag queen; a lover spurned; sex murders, prostitution, love affairs, social climbing, friendship in bad faith.
The book opens with an ellipse, which neatly conveys the provisional nature of a narrative and underscores how much is left out when any story is told. It's not just the defense and prosecution who describe the same events in radically different ways: Friends and lovers recall their pasts differently, journalists shape the facts to suit their ends, an actor tells an interviewer what he wants the public to hear. Every story is a kind of lie in Indiana's schema, a diversion from a harder truth. About 100 pages into the novel, the absurdities begin to accrete into black comedy, and Indiana's self-conscious narrative becomes fast-paced, unfolding in an endless dilation of verbiage.
The trial is not the only spectacle. Indiana skewers contemporary culture, especially the vampiric appropriation of exotic identities. A spiritual quiz show called Celebrity Buddhist features contestants Philip Glass, Richard Gere, Allen Ginsberg, and Oliver Stone competing for karmic points. And the send-up of Jamaica Kincaid is itself worth the price of admission.
In a broad sense, all the characters here are on trial. No one is innocent, even if their crimes are only prosecuted inside the chambers of their minds. The real crime, Indiana makes clear, is depraved indifference to others and pointless ambition, which drives us to pillage the lives of others in search of material for our own designs. Parents use their children, journalists use their subjects, editors use writers, friends exploit friends, lovers kill lovers. Everyone is trying to make a killing on the back of someone else's tragedy.