After a film director dies in a mysterious fire, there is more than one side to the story of his life.
Movie director Leland Granger sought acclaim his entire life, but only achieved his goal after his death. His sole feature film is released posthumously, and his daughter Debby pens a biography to establish her father’s status as an auteur, despite the efforts of those, she contends, who undermined him. However, Leland’s longtime friend Paul Garvey sees things differently. Paul levies his judgment upon the biography, while sharing his perspective on the man he had known since college, when he was just the asthmatic, eccentric Leon Grossman from Milwaukee. While Debby’s sensationalist, pretentious tell-all, The Celluloid Umbilical, is widely panned and revealed to be largely fictional, Paul provides particular insight into her flights of fancy, having been present at many of the events she describes. His motive in debunking Debby’s book isn’t simply devotion to the truth or his friend’s memory–he’s defending himself and others against the character assassination she undertakes, which goes so far as to implicate him in the fire that killed her parents. The narrative is a deliciously sarcastic tale, packed with Hollywood history told from an insider’s viewpoint, but the language is often too clever for its own good. Wolfe throws himself wholeheartedly into his novel’s conceit, even supplying numerous footnotes citing Debby’s fictional biography and those of other figures involved, as well as an index. But the meta-fictional premise, which brings Paul Auster to mind, isn’t quite sufficient enough to sustain the reader’s interest for 300 pages. The book ultimately ends with an unsatisfying whimper. Adding to the post-modern resonance, Double Feature has been published posthumously; Wolfe, a longtime Hollywood writer, died in 2007.
A Hollywood whodunit told in compelling, if at times verbose, style.