In this fiction debut, journalist Burr (The Perfect Scent, 2008, etc.) offers the tale of a movie executive’s wife leading a book-discussion group.
Anne Hammersmith met Howard Rosenbaum at Columbia University, where they both received their doctorates in English literature. Soon after graduation he got an opportunity to produce movies in Hollywood, and after negotiating some difficult fertility issues, they had a son, Sam. Eventually Anne is able to indulge her love for literature in an unusual way, by starting a book club for people in the movie industry. This would seem to be an uphill battle, for even though the air is full of talk about scripts, as one of Howard’s acquaintances informs Anne, “Nobody reads in Hollywood.” Anne is one of those people able to discern literature’s connections to her own life, so the books she chooses for the discussion group serve as a commentary on her family relationships and social position. Tolstoy on dinner parties (in Anna Karenina), Auden on “namelessness” and identity in the modern age, George Eliot on anti-Semitism and what to do with one’s life (in Romola) all elucidate Anne’s increasingly frayed social and domestic bonds. Sam, a preternaturally precocious boy who grew up doting on the clever wordplay and allusions of his literary parents, as a teenager reveals that he’s gay, but also becomes increasingly interested in the religious heritage of his father. Howard, previously a thoroughly secular Jew, begins to move toward orthodoxy, which both hurts and frustrates Anne. The religious divisions Howard erects are barriers to their marriage, she contends: “If you are now a Jew and I am now a Gentile, you have now placed me in a fundamentally different category of human beings from yours. We are divided.”
A savvy novel that deals with Hollywood from a cultural rather than a tabloid perspective.