An engrossing tale of a fictional star’s memoir and her puzzling fate.

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BRIGHT STAR

In this historical mystery, a Hollywood screenwriter digs into the past of a relative—a silent-era movie star whose disappearance nearly a century ago remains unexplained. 

In 2014, writer Elliott Farr, who’s still fairly new to Hollywood, agrees to research early, influential personalities of the silver screen for a film producer. He quickly zeroes in on Catherine Farr, his great-great-aunt, a movie actress who was famous in the 1910s, when many filmmakers were producing pictures in Chicago. Catherine’s life is a mystery; she vanished in 1920, and her lover, movie director Toby Swanney, claimed that he killed her accidentally. But authorities never found a body or officially charged Swanney, who later recanted. Catherine was a striking actress who first appeared onscreen in 1912, and she quickly proved to be an inspired writer and director as well. She constantly challenged people with her movies, tackling such topical issues as women’s suffrage and racism in America. But although Catherine monetarily supported her family, who lived on a Palatine, Illinois, farm, she and her “judgmental and envious” Uncle Aran often clashed. While investigating his ancestor’s fate, Elliott finds a few surprises, including a woman who died in the late 1950s who may have been Catherine, though using an alias. Smith’s (Robert E. Howard, 2018, etc.) tale oscillates between various moments in Catherine’s life and Elliott’s present. Much of Catherine’s story resembles a formal, generally neutral biography, often simply detailing plots of her extensive filmography. However, as the narrative progresses and Catherine’s work becomes more political, Smith effectively and appropriately dramatizes the struggles that she faces, both as a woman and as a filmmaker. The early-20th-century time period is particularly vivid in its historical details, which include real-life films and stars as well as a reference to the 1918 influenza pandemic. The mystery, meanwhile, is sound, particularly in the novel’s latter half, which offers readers more than one well-earned shock.

An engrossing tale of a fictional star’s memoir and her puzzling fate.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68390-240-9

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Pulp Hero Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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