Ever meet a guy in a bar who tells stories with great beginnings, interminable middles and never a satisfying ending? And they're all about him, even when he says they aren't? Reading Crossbearer is like sitting next to that guy. Joe Eszterhas, once King of the Nasty and screenwriter of Jagged Edge, Basic Instinct and Showgirls, shouts his conversion to muscular Christianity in this fractured memoir of bitsy sentences and skip-around anecdotes.
Child-of-the-darkness Joe, who smoked at 12 and drank at 14, is diagnosed with throat cancer, undergoes surgery to have 80 percent of his larynx removed and can never drink or smoke again. With all the drama of a revival scene from a suburban version of Tobacco Road, Eszterhas finds God while sitting and crying on a curb in a Bainbridge subdivision. This happens on page six.
The rest of the book is the pop-lit equivalent of the fist-to-chest, finger-to-sky acknowledgement of God made by a grand-slam hitter: very obvious, very public, very aware of oneself. Here is the Dealmaker talking to God: "Let me beat this cancer ... I will tell the world about You ... even if telling the world destroys my Hollywood career." And then the Punitive Scorekeeper God who says, according to Eszterhas, "You with the big fat loud blasphemous and obscene mouth, let's see how you feel when you can't speak anymore." And then Eszterhas on the Big Ole Angry God: "I certainly knew that He could get easily miffed. His divine nose snapped out of joint easily. He needed some anger management pretty badly. Check out that tsunami in Indonesia. Check out Hurricane Katrina. Check out the fact that my beloved Cleveland Indians hadn't won a World Series since 1948!"
Righteous indignation isn't only for the Divine. Eszterhas is pissed about the Catholic Church, "the pedophile's church," and has fun playing mind games - he calls them prayers - when meeting his new bishop. He rails against the Nike Witness ad campaign and the ascension of LeBron James to a capital-S Savior. He writes a treatment for a television drama starring the character Father Jack Turek, who has a tattoo of a crucified Christ on his arm, wears Harley Davidson T-shirts outside of church, rides (of course) a vintage Indian motorcycle and plays (of course) a mean blues guitar. A producer becomes interested, they pitch it to the networks, it looks like a hit and then, wham! All the networks pass on it. Eszterhas' judgment? "The Catholic Church sorely needed men like Father Jack Turek - both in the parishes and in the hierarchy - if it was going to survive." The man who had written Showgirls was offering the church its new savior.
The indelible truth of Crossbearer is that it is a memoir of faith in the talents and ego of Joe Eszterhas, for each example of God begins and ends with Joe. From comparing his portrayal of the leading women of Basic Instinct and Jagged Edge to the strength of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to finding his grandfather's grave in Budapest mere hours before it was destroyed (thank you, Jesus), the conviction remains: God works for Joe. And while the presence of God has changed his life, this testimony is a jangled, jumping narrative without any sense of deeper connections.