Crawford's acute first novel, In a Class By Herself, was about madness, alcohol-and-pills style, and it was very hard to...



Crawford's acute first novel, In a Class By Herself, was about madness, alcohol-and-pills style, and it was very hard to take. Now she has cagily written a charming, smiling, sweet, elegant book--about madness--and it's a small-scale winner. The madwoman is Isobel Claflin, and her craze is The Movies. It's 1932, and newly widowed Isobel and youngest son Willie have driven from Detroit to Hollywood, where they set up headquarters at the Roosevelt Hotel and go into an exhausting routine of serious, full-time star-gazing. Daily pilgrimage to Pickfair, erratic encounters with Tallulah, intensive moviegoing, and collecting memorabilia for the scrapbook (Isobel's ""work""). Eccentric and adorable, yes? Especially as reported in Willie's self-deprecating, slang-crazy journal. But telegrams start coming from brother Ian in Detroit--about the beleaguered family business, about alcoholic brother Jamie, about sister Alexine's marital miseries. And, more importantly, Crawford begins filling in the Claflin family history--a history of Isobel's progressive withdrawal from husband, children (she orders them to call her ""Isobel""), and reality. She wears black to son Ian's wedding because she's still in mourning for Valentino. As her husband's coffin is lowered, she asks Willie, ""would ya take me t'see Platinum Blonde?"" Because Crawford's narration is so cannily uninflected, it takes us a while to catch on to the extent of Isobel's looniness. It takes us even longer with Willie; even after his amazingly naive ""affair"" with a whoring con-woman, we're surprised when he decides to ignore those telegrams from Detroit and stay put in fantasyland: ""We're in no, repeat, no hurry to blow this burg. . . . Who'd see Bill of Divorcement through its shooting schedule if we am-scrayed? . . . Would Tallulah forgive us for duckin' out while she's in town? . . . one for Hollywood--none for the home team."" This is a tricky past-present, inside-outside scenario to carry off with subtlety, but Crawford has done it-and, if the resulting book is less than gripping and not exactly moving, it remains a true work of the imagination, perfectly shaped and beautifully built.

Pub Date: April 1, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1978