PANDAEMONIUM

A sprawling and frequently ponderous tale about the film industry in Hollywood and on location elsewhere in the late 1930s and the early days of WW II, from a scion of Hollywood families who's distinguished himself as the author of such novels as King of the Jews (1979) and Pinto and Sons (1990). The story begins in 1937, with a flight carrying famed director Rudolph Von Beckmann and his cast (including narrator Peter Lorre) and crew to Munich, where the master will stage a theatrical production of Sophocles' Antigone. But the burgeoning Nazi momentum changes their plans—particularly those of Von Beckmann's adored star Magdalena Mezaray, who is appropriated, as it were, by the government for its new FÅhrer's entertainment. Other distractions—such as the great director's homosexual passions and Lorre's hopeless fixation on his colleague and sometime co-star Rochelle Hudson—variously affect Von Beckmann's ingenious plan: to film his Antigone in the guise of a Wild West melodrama, to be shot in a remote Nevada town named (all too sympathetically) Pandaemonium. The outcome is tragic, but its impact is lessened by the distance at which we're kept from Epstein's confusing host of fictional and real characters (including his well-known father and uncle, the successful screenwriters Philip G. and Julius J. Epstein). The momentum is further flattened by recurring excerpts from the columns of gossipmonger Louella Parsons, whose participation in the climactic action doesn't seem fully credible. Peter Lorre is a potentially attractive focal character—his barely contained fury at contractual obligations binding him perhaps forever to the unfulfilling role of serial sleuth ``Mr. Moto'' is well conveyed, as are his fears for the fate of Jews, including himself—but Epstein has given him a whiny, self-absorbed voice and manner that severely undercut our identification and empathy with him. The materials for a fine novel are here, but this one feels both overwrought and uninvolving.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-312-15622-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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