McCracken just may strike it rich with this enchantingly detailed and immensely appealing follow-up to the NBA-nominated The Giant’s House (1996).
Mose Sharp, half of the celebrated comedy team Carter and Sharp, tells their story 30 years after his estrangement from his partner Rocky Carter. McCracken has researched widely and well, and the story offers a delicious panorama of the American entertainment industry throughout the 20th century, as Mose, “a nice Jewish boy from Iowa who stumbled from one act to another,” relates his experiences first as a nondescript vaudevillian and then as straight man to the ebullient Rocky. Visions of Abbott and Costello and/or Laurel and Hardy dance through the reader’s head as the novel moves both backward and forward. We learn the roots of Mose’s motivation in his relationship with his older sister (and mentor) Hattie, their five other sisters, and their stoical widowed father; we follow the team’s upward mobility through the Midwest’s vaudeville circuit, on radio (Rudy Vallee’s show, then their own), in Hollywood, and eventually on television. Rocky goes through four wives, while Mose marries beautiful dance instructor Jessica Howard, fathers four children (three of whom survive), and ends the partnership when a justifiably aggrieved Rocky makes a damaging threat. The elegiac final 50 pages chronicle Rocky’s inexplicable disappearance, Mose’s continuing career as a movie character actor, and a wonderfully written halfhearted reconciliation attempt that takes place in, of all places, Reno, Nevada. The show-biz atmosphere is re-created with great skill. The comic routines McCracken devises for her protagonists (one of which provides her superb title) are suitably dated and groan-worthy, and the juxtapositions of Rocky’s and Mose’s gaudy public images with the scruffy realities of their private lives are charted with masterly precision and empathy. And what a movie this will make (there’s a killer part for Nathan Lane).
A career-making book that bears interesting comparison with both Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist (1998) and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000). This one is going places.