In Hollywood shorthand—as the writer and Times scent critic Chandler Burr knows—you’d describe You or Someone Like You, his first novel, as Reading Lolita in Tehran meets Curb Your Enthusiasm meets God Is Not Great. His narrator, Anne Rosenbaum (née Hammersmith), leads a book club for Hollywood’s non-acting elite, until her husband, Howard, rediscovers Judaism and threatens to leave his shiksa. Embedded within the novel are scenes with real-life producers (J. J. Abrams, David Levy) and New Yorker writers (Mark Singer, Alex Ross), plus one long diatribe on the hypocrisy of Judaism. It’s the highbrow humanist name-dropping book of the summer. Burr tried to explain himself to Boris Kachka.
A book club in Hollywood? That sounds like a tough sell.
I’ve worked in the purlieus of Hollywood for a long time, and years ago, some producer said to me, “Well, Chandler, nobody reads in Hollywood.” So of course, I thought, “Fuck—a book club in Hollywood!”
So does anybody there actually read?
Well, it’s pure fantasy.
Do you actually know these people?
I didn’t want to use anybody that I know, but when you’re in that world, you hear nothing but references to them. Stacey Snider [of DreamWorks] is there because everybody has always told me, “Stacey is a serious reader.” The only person in Hollywood whose permission I asked was Nina Jacobson. I met with Nina and said, “Look, I’m writing this novel … ” She said to me, “What’s this novel about?” And she leans forward, and she says, “Obviously! We [Jews] divide ourselves from everybody else and that’s a good thing, and then they divide us from everybody else and that’s a bad thing. So we’re right and they’re wrong?!” And that’s the line I put in.
Any reactions from friends?
When I submitted the book to Eric Simonoff, my agent—well, Eric and Anne, his wife, they don’t like it when I say the book is about them. It’s certainly not a portrait of their marriage.
Wait—you based your protagonists on your agent and his wife?
Let’s be serious: In my mind, I think of Howard, I think of Eric. But he thought I meant that he, Eric, had the potential one day to freak out and leave his family. I would never think that he would do that.