A debut novel about the silent film era explores love, lechery, and the importance of storytelling.
Almost overnight, motion pictures have taken over American entertainment—and every lost soul has dreams of making it big. Sidney Thrall’s attention to detail and ability to spot talent catapult him into working with his Uncle Jacob Lasky at Lasky-Famous Players. But then Sidney leaves Lasky for Judah Ben Mayer’s studio, even though he’s perfectly aware of the magnate’s notorious reputation for ruthless manipulation. For Sidney and Judah, movies are more than a job. Films give Sidney the chance to bring to life the tales that sustained him as a sickly kid and drove him to want to become the hero. For Judah, movies remain a source of joy and anger, where he can place his most debased alter-ego on the screen for all to see. But Sidney’s and Judah’s lives intertwine in more ways than one. Both men are fascinated by actress Nina Michaels. Judah cast her years ago in a small role in exchange for sexual favors but now Sidney falls in love with this mysterious woman who reminds him of his childhood. And Judah can’t ignore her because she and Sidney have one thing the studio czar’s money and luck can’t buy: love. Shankman is an actor, playwright, and novelist. He studs his intricate tale with lovely prose, detailed enough to depict every inch of a movie frame that a protagonist walks through: “On either side of him the land is rolling mudlike hillocks with tufts of dead wood, stumps, rising out of the grunge, rolling away like a nightmare in the glare of a falsely illuminated night and once in a while the pitted thin remnant of a tree trunk like a gallows waiting patiently for a criminal dawn.” The author boldly uses point of view like a camera lens, following Sidney one moment, Judah the next, and then suddenly switching to a stream-of- consciousness, first-person narration by Nina. Unfortunately, this experimentation sometimes leaves the audience confused about the compelling characters’ basic thoughts and actions. The author’s inventiveness does not always pay off.
A beautifully written and emotionally complex movie tale that lacks a coherent point of view.