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

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 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, the author of Robert E. Howard (2018), 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

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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