May 2, 2014

Rob Lowe’s ‘Love Life’ offers fascinating Hollywood tidbits

Actor Rob Lowe’s engaging memoir offers up touching family stories — and fascinating inside tidbits about his work in Hollywood.

Read Rob Lowe’s second autobiography, and you will be well entertained. But listening to the actor narrate his own life story via audiobook — from his wild days of teen stardom to his sober life as a devoted dad and husband — makes Love Life a unique and ultimately more intimate experience.

Love Life — think of it as a command, not a description of what Lowe was primarily concerned with in his St. Elmo’s Fire days — faces the tough task of following the terrific Stories I Only Tell My Friends. How many good memoirs can one man write? But Lowe, who has entered his 50s now, still has plenty of stories and insights left in his arsenal, and he deals out the heartfelt and the hilarious with equal skill.

Lowe writes that he’s at something of a crossroads, professionally and personally. He left his recurring role as the health-obsessed (and extremely funny) Chris Traeger on NBC’s comedy Parks and Recreation, and, like many parents his age, he’s confronting the sobering reality of empty nest syndrome.

He writes movingly about taking his oldest son Matthew to college — “Soon the geography of our relationship will change and we will build a new one based around distance, and while I hope it will be as close as before, I know it will never be the same” — and he knows his youngest, Johnowen, isn’t far behind. He wonders what’s ahead for himself and his wife but isn’t one to let uncertainty paralyze him: “I suppose I could buy a Harley or a seventies muscle car and drive along the coast with Sheryl until we sit side by side holding hands in matching claw-footed tubs placed strategically on a beautiful ocean-front cliff, like in those erectile dysfunction commercials. ... I could do a lot of things with the new expanse of free time I will have. But first I will have to come to see it as an opportunity and not as a loss.”

That sort of persistent, positive-thinking strain runs throughout Love Life, lending it a hint of self-help manual. But Lowe’s resistance to gloomy thoughts means there’s room for plenty of humor (including advice on why dressing as Bigfoot to scare/thrill your kids is both a good and spectacularly bad idea). The book is at its best when he’s sharing inside Hollywood stories: about his first trip to the Playboy Mansion; why singer Jewel didn’t want to kiss him on the set of the short-lived The Lyon’s Den; why the unseen final episode of that series is a must-watch; why taking a big bite of a “wish sandwich” — taking on an iffy project you hope will improve, in this case the disastrous Dr. Vegas — is dangerous.

Lowe writes that he doesn’t view such projects as failures, that everything he’s done — the canceled shows as well as his stellar work on Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing and his lunatic turns on Californication and in Behind the Candelabra — has been part of a lifelong learning process. The fact that his second book is every bit as engaging as the first proves his point. I’m betting he could do an equally fine job on a third.

Connie Ogle is the Miami Herald’s book editor.

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