Zeroville opens in 1969, as a young man who will soon start calling himself Vikar comes to Los Angeles. He has a frame from A Place in the Sun tattooed on his bald head, a troubled childhood behind him, and the world of the movies ahead of him. Erickson never explains Vikar, but we come to understand him over the course of the novel, especially as we notice that his opinions (particularly about the movies) are all second-hand, all quotes from someone else. He drifts into the Hollywood sphere through his oddly violent passivity, becoming a set builder, then set designer, then editor, and eventually having the chance to direct a movie. Along the way, a host of other characters pass through his life -- most of them are famous names of the '70s, but Erickson rarely refers to any of them by name, so the reader has to try to figure out who they are. (If Erickson weren't such a mesmerizing writer, this could be annoying, but his style has always been to explain through inference and dialogue. Erickson's people tell us more than his narrative voice does.)
I expect Zeroville would be an even more impressive achievement for a reader who really knows the movies of the '70s -- I don't; I was only a kid at the time, and have only seen scattered stuff since then. Zeroville embodies the '70s strain of American moviemaking as Vikar, and then sets him loose in Hollywood, to mirror back the dreams and hatreds, the hopes and fear of that tumultuous decade and its most successful artform. Zeroville is one of the best novels of 2007, and a major landmark in Erickson's stop-and-start career, and, even more than that, it's a wonderfully readable novel about our American lives.