THE KID by John Baxter


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Why would anyone want to read a sketchy, tacky roman à clef about Charlie Chaplin, whose life and career have been so richly documented in both bio- and autobiographical form? The sexual side of Chaplin is certainly well-known--from ex-wife Lita's My Life With Chaplin and others. And even Baxter's major conjecture--Chaplin's secret Jewish parentage, which bred insecurity and, later, a great anti-Hitler film--is a familiar one. So there's virtually no interest here as one follows the climb of ""Tommy Timpson""--from seedy London beginnings (a mentally ill show-biz mother, a confusion of fathers) to the music-hail circuit to tours in America, where a hesitant initiation into off-the-cuff silent-filmmaking soon sends Tommy on to the pressured world of international stardom. (He originally disguises himself with that famous mustache because he's ashamed of doing movies and of stealing his style from other vaudevillians.) Along the way he has assorted, gratuitously emphasized sexual diversions; he learns the truth about his Jewish father from brother Jack (""It was a world of outcasts, and now he was one of them""); he winds up in a shotgun wedding with 14-year-old Dorothy; his mother's death leads to his vision for Our Times, a.k.a. Modern Times (""Protecting itself, his genius covered the irritant with pearl""); and the novel ends with that notorious paternity suit, plus an epilogue that makes useless passing references to Timpson/Chaplin's later years (e.g., his political problems vis-à-vis the US). With no particular psychological insights and only a very few scenes that have charm or drama--a pointless, seemingly half-hearted, and frequently annoying exercise.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking