Fashion columnist/novelist Boyt (Only Human, 2004, etc.) obsesses over a life obsessed with Judy Garland.
“[Judy] was my life in purest form,” writes the author, “encapsulating and refining all the things that interested me most.” Like Garland, Boyt had a traumatic start. She was born into a broken home and was often overweight and overwrought. She also liked to sing and, as she flirted with a performing career, longed for the stage mother she didn’t have. (Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft later suggested to the author that children should not be robbed of childhood.) Like millions of others, Boyt was transfixed by an early screening of The Wizard of Oz, identifying intensely with the film’s star. Her memoir tends to circle in adulatory generalizations about Garland, occasionally getting specific to make somewhat tenuous connections between the two lives. Garland’s “flicker of lip and eye” in a frame from Meet Me in St. Louis launches the author’s recollections of her own Christmases. A telling essay about Garland’s schooling between takes at Metro leads to Boyt’s ruminations about emotional and physical hunger. Boyt’s insight into Garland’s work is mostly uneven, but she scores with an analysis of the failure of Garland’s TV series in the mid-’60s. The author posits that the devastation wrought by the cancellation contributed to the singer’s demise. Along the way, Boyt offers sharp but too-brief profiles of Garland’s fans and co-workers, including cabaret performer Mary Cleere Haran, who comes off as rather testy, and a quickly glimpsed Mickey Rooney, who appears grumpy and enigmatic. Boyt’s anxieties prior to an interview with Liza Minnelli may exhaust reader patience, but the interview itself, however sketchy, rewards with its quick, telling details. The author’s parting observation—“I have navigated my life under her [Garland’s] star”—comes as no surprise.
Even die-hard Garland fans may wish Boyt’s ardor had limits.