Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Reading: A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

So, I guess the fiction I read is usually genre fiction, the kind of stuff that can be easily pigeonholed - science fiction, mystery, alternate history, fantasy, sword-and-sorcery, and what have you. I'm not sure where to slot this one - it's not really a genre piece, but it's not artsy and/or depressing enough to be literary fiction. Wikipedia lists something called realistic fiction -maybe that's what this is.

There is romance to found, but it isn't a romance novel; there's character growth, but it's not exactly a Bildungsroman. Actually, A Touch of Stardust pretty much reads like the first half of Kavalier & Clay, if a gender-swapped Sammy was a young Smith graduate from Fort Wayne, Indiana who wants to be a screenwriter and Joe was an assistant producer for David O. Selznick on Gone With the Wind.

The story spans a year, from December 1938 to December 1939, as the impresario Selznick guides his troubled masterpiece to completion and Europe edges closer to all-out war. Though the struggles of our protagonist Julie Crawford and her "colleague" Andy Weinstein, we encounter not just Selznick but famed screenwriters Frances Marion and Herbert Mankiewicz, gossip columnist Louella Parsons, GWTW actors Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, and Clark Gable, and, as the guiding light of the book, the "Profane Angel" Carole Lombard, whose irrepressible spirit becomes the energy driving the story.

If you squint, it looks a little like a glitzy show-business saga and it could easily be translated into a star-studded movie, but there's a core of authenticity to all the characters. What they really want and what they really need have nothing to do with movies or Hollywood, and their triumphs and failures have less to do with careers and fame and more to do with honesty and commitment.  In the end, this is a novel about real people.

I guess I should make the obligatory mention of the strong, complex female protagonist we find in Julie and the inspiration Carole Lombard's life becomes, as interpreted by the author - but can't I just say that I really liked her/them/all that? Because I did.

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