Luke Davies’ book was published in 2008, but often the slow mail to Kookynie means that KC’s book reviewer has to make up for lost time. God of Speed is a debauched take on the life of Howard Hughes. It’s a wild ride, as we share the old man’s delirious (‘stream-of-consciousness’ is an understatement) telling of his own incredible story. Hunter S Thompson would’ve approved.
Hughes’ life was also used in Scorsese’s film ‘The Aviator’ with Dicaprio, but this book explores it with such gusto, as it vibrates with Hughes’ imagined recall of his erotic adventures and other conquests. Inheritor of a fabulous fortune in the 1920s, his boyhood fascination with speed and flying leads him to build new record-breaking aircrafts and circle the globe; and a thirst for women and moviemaking bulks up a very manic life. Money was no object, as the cliché would have it, and Hughes seriously indulged himself with big boy’s toys, including mega-yachts as tools of seduction. Speed of course also refers to drugs, which became indispensable to him going ever faster with the flow.
One big advantage of having your own movie studio is the ability to vet scores of beautiful women on the famous casting couch, and here Hughes was an exemplary launcher of starlet’s careers and a regal procession of affairs with them. From Billie Dove, Carole Lombard & Jean Harlow, they all overlapped in an ongoing orgy of monkey-barring affairs, to Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, her sister Joan Fontaine, Ginger Rogers, Ava Gardner, Jane Greer, Jean Peters et al. All were greedily fucked (Davies’ oft-used word and probably Hughes too) and a couple married.
Davies’ rapid-fire storytelling from inside this drug-addled mind is tight, melding together the signature events of Hughes’ life, including his plane crash, political shenanigans in financing Nixon’s presidency and much more, with graphic trills on his sexual episodes. Highly recommended!