The Pink Hotel
Newlyweds Kit and Keith Collins run a hotel and restaurant in Booneville, California. Keith has big dreams, and when they meet Richard and Ilka Beaumont from Beverly Hills at the Western Hospitality Expo Mr. Beaumont invites them to spend their honeymoon free of charge at the Pink Hotel.
The Pink Hotel, as some may guess, is based on the famous Beverly Hills Hotel, but that’s where the comparison ends. This noir/horror tale takes you on a wild, crazy, over-the-top story of destruction, of “Eat the Rich” excess, and a newlywed couple who are tested beyond the limits of sanity. Fasten your seatbelt.
When Kit and Keith first arrive at the hotel, we have our first view of the stakes in the story. Keith is enamored of the wealthy guests and their lifestyle. He’s also secretly vying for a position there and thinks grandiose thoughts about his capabilities. He constantly refers to Kit as “his wife,” a possession, a pretty piece of arm candy that will help him get the job. Not that he doesn’t love her, because he does—in his own selfish way.
Naive Kit doesn’t know any of this. She’s there for a honeymoon and all that entails. But Keith expects her to join the guests at the hotel parties where she’s dressed by others in high-end fashion. The guests treat her as a project, laud her for her looks, and use her for their entertainment. Mr. Beaumont puts Keith to work because troubles abound. First, a fire rages in the hills around L.A. and Beaumont closes the hotel to any visitors. Flights are canceled. No one is going anywhere. Some employees can’t make it to work. Ugly local protests against the rich grow violent. Rolling blackouts stir up the guests and the outsiders.
As the news grows more frightening and threatening, the guests demand more extravagant distractions. Keith thinks he’s making progress with Mr. B. when he saves one of the parties from failure. Kit, feeling locked away from the normal world, wanders out to the construction site, where one of the workers, Sean Flores, notices how afraid and lost she seems. Like a classic film star, Kit faints from the heat, and Sean carries her into the hotel and possibly to a crumbling marriage.
At the hotel, booze, cocaine, and sex help the poor guests through their anxiety. During cabana parties and the Black and White Ball, ash falls, windows close to toxic air, and exotic animals are brought in to delight the partiers while wild cats come down from the fire-engulfed hills and wander onto the hotel grounds. The employees continue to feed, soothe, pamper, coddle and clean up the messes of the guests while all propriety breaks down. Champagne and sparkling rosé flow while employees flee, and clouds of smoke descend.
Jacobs keeps us reading not with a raging plot, but with a slow burn toward doom and a keen sense of creating atmosphere. She renders the hotel like an artist, enveloping the reader with the smell of flowers and fire, the taste of oysters and whiskey, the sounds of screaming green parrots and helicopters.
Past celebrity guest names are dropped—Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, and Elizabeth Taylor. Current famous guests are not mentioned by name, but we know the type: oil tycoons, rock stars, movie moguls, and politicians, all gathered to escape reality, oblivious to impending doom.
Jacobs has a talent for steeping the reader in the setting, just as she did with her other novels Catalina and The Worst Kind of Want. The lush descriptions intoxicate while at the same time suffocate. The juxtaposition of what happens inside the hotel to what happens outside creates tension. The large cast of characters from a young socialite to sadistic twins are each given their own point of view, so we always know what they’re thinking and why, but this somewhat weakens the suspense.
Yet The Pink Hotel will grab you if you know what you’re in for. Is this a suspense novel? A thriller? Not really. When you know everyone’s motives and internal thoughts, you can probably guess what might happen next.
Jacobs isn’t going for twists and turns. Jacobs has written a noir satire about a bleak world and a society heading toward the apocalypse. But the satire wraps the story in humor, exaggerating the characters to the point of absurdity and causing a few smiles and many an eye roll. The Pink Hotel exposes and criticizes people’s stupidity, vices, and excesses. The ending seems to say, “Time to set fire to this garbage dump of humanity.” You’ll have to read the book, however, to find out if Kit and Keith make it out alive.
Early in the novel, Mr. Beaumont, referring to the guests, tells Keith, “Everything I’ve shown you today, they need it. Need, not want. It gives their lives context, purpose. They want infamy and in these walls that might just happen.”
As the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Thanks to NetGalley, Liska Jacobs, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an advanced copy in return for an honest review.