I usually avoid novels about Hollywood. I'm a movie critic: it's coals to Newcastle. So many of them are just gossip tarted up with literary pretensions. But Steve Erickson's one-of-a-kind "Zeroville" is a novel for people who love movies. The deeper into them you are, the more you'll get out of it. Erickson's protagonist, Vikar Jerome, is in way deep, but he doesn't see movies quite how most people do: he thinks, for example, that "The Exorcist" is a comedy. Raised by a fierce Calvinist father who wouldn't allow him to see movies until he was 20, he arrives on Hollywood Boulevard via Greyhound bus in 1969, just when the Manson family goes on its rampage. Vikar has his own streak of violence, which tends to erupt when people mistake the tattoos on his shaved head of Elizabeth Taylor and Monty Clift in "A Place in the Sun" for Natalie Wood and James Dean. The unworldly, ex-seminarian Vikar is a kind of cinematic idiot savant: imagine a cross between "Being There's" Chauncey Gardener and "Taxi Driver's" Travis Bickle.
Erickson, a cult novelist praised by no less than Thomas Pynchon, is also Los Angeles Magazine's film critic, and he pours his encyclopedic knowledge of 1970s Hollywood into this funny, unnervingly surreal page-turner, in which burglars wax eloquent about "Now, Voyager" and the ghost of D. W. Griffith haunts the Roosevelt Hotel. I can't say I understand everything Erickson is up to—don't ask me why the chapters run up to 226 and then back to zero—but it doesn't matter. Every page will set off fireworks in any movie lover's head.