The Understudy is an almost good book which is sure to be successful starting with Literary Guild selection and premiere...

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THE UNDERSTUDY

The Understudy is an almost good book which is sure to be successful starting with Literary Guild selection and premiere attention. It's harder to say where it goes wrong; it's full of names you know and try to keep matching up; it's full of names Kazan knows even better via his long career in bona fide theater, here reduced mostly to show business. Perhaps the main problem with the vehicle (although a requisite for commercial success) is the melodrama taking place throughout and culminating with an orgy, an arrangement -- two killings, and assorted crimes. This detracts from the major presence of the novel -- Sidney Castleman, nee Schlossberg, sort of a John Barry-more, part ham or rather pastrami. For years, years of symbiotic shackledom, Sidney and Sonny -- his protege, his former understudy -- have been ""as close as the pages of a wet newspaper."" Now Castleman is at the raddled end of a great career -- not only cancer, but booze and barbiturates and stronger drugs. Sidney is one of those Mt. Rushmore graven images on Sonny's back, an unappeasable guilt Sonny cannot shake as with his ""smile-sneer"" he keeps asking for help, from loose change to a part in a play. He is also a destroyer (Sonny's relationship with Ellie and her kid Arthur -- the damage is physical as well as psychological). No matter how he tries to run away from it (even as far as a Hemingwayesque safari in Africa) he returns to the ""sanctity of pain"" which is Sidney and keeps perpetuating it. This is where the book counts most and works best -- Kazan's heart is obviously in it even if it covers his whole sleeve. In any case do not discount the grab -- that's no doubt legit.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1974

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Stein & Day

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1974