Lenz’s mesmerizing, multifaceted debut novel is both an intriguing time-travel/past-life adventure and a subtle homage to Marilyn Monroe.
Initially set in Southern California in 1996, the storyline follows Jack Cade, a 40-year-old struggling actor who’s inexplicably given a valuable alexandrite ring by an unknown benefactor. But the strange gift doesn’t change Cade’s run of bad luck: He loses a job he desperately needed, and his wife finally leaves him. When a woman named Maggie Partridge, who claims to be a psychophysicist, contacts the down-and-out actor with “extremely important” information, he decides to meet with her and hear her out. Her story is incredible: She believes that Cade used to be a man named Richard Blake, a gemologist who lived in the San Fernando Valley in the 1950s—and she has a way to send him back in time to prove it. Cade agrees and indeed finds himself back in 1956 as the gemologist. Blake’s existence is as bleak as Cade’s. He lives with his wife and her mentally challenged sister, with whom he’s having an affair. Blake, an aspiring actor, has the opportunity to meet Marilyn Monroe, who has just started filming Bus Stop. Meeting Monroe helps Cade/Blake begin to unravel the mystery surrounding the alexandrite ring, and the pieces to an incredibly intricate puzzle start falling into place—until Blake’s wife takes umbrage with his infidelity. Along the way, this fascinating look at the underbelly of Hollywood offers an intriguing glimpse into Monroe’s tragic life and death. “We turned her into an icon,” says Cade, in Richard’s body, “then a vessel of our hopes and dreams, and finally a human sacrifice.” Like Monroe, the novel is impressively complex. Lenz—himself a veteran actor—cunningly blends time travel, LA noir, Hollywood glitz and self-discovery, making for a uniquely appealing read.
A stellar story illuminated by a star’s light and a man’s search for himself.