I bring you a review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. This one is a YA novel about a topic that affects many but one I haven’t read many books about. It made me think about the nature of comedy.
Freedom of speech and comedy have always had a complex relationship, as many people insist that any topic can be the subject of comedy while others don’t agree. Who decides what is offensive and what is not? Although as outside observers we might think that some people are easily offended (when we don’t agree with their point of view and their annoyance at something somebody else had said or done), we all (or most of us) have something (or someone) that we would be likely to get upset by if it became the butt of a joke. How do we judge what is appropriate? Books are being banned again and such issues seem to be more relevant than ever.
And without further ado…
FAT: the other “F” word: a novel by Dan Radlauer
In “FAT: The Other ‘F’ Word,” Quincy Collins lives in two vastly different worlds. One where he’s a very heavy and awkward freshman at Beverly Hills High School, the other where he’s a Hollywood character actor in commercials and Indie films playing the comic relief or the despicable bully. Guess which world he likes better?
At the start of this Y.A. novel, Quincy gets his big break with a major role as “The Fat Brother” in a hot new Network Sitcom, only to find that wanting and having are two very different things.
First, “size discrimination activists” challenge the integrity of the character he’s portraying. Then his health struggles begin to undermine both his character on the show, and his self-assigned brand as “The Fat Kid Actor.” His dream gig becomes a nightmare, and he starts to question the role he’s playing on TV, as well as in real life.
“FAT: The Other ‘F’ Word” shows a unique person in a unique setting.It exploresHollywood, adolescence,and our culture’s attitudes towardsdifferent sized people.Quincy narrates the story with discovery, irony, pain and compassion as he learns that he can’t base his identity on the size of his body.
Dan Radlauer is an award winning composer and producer living and working in Los Angeles. After starting his career writing music for literally thousands of television and radio commercials, he started focusing on TV and Film work around 2001. His years doing “ad music” has given him a musical palette that spans from Head Banging Rock and EDM to full orchestral scores as well as world, Jazz and organic acoustics genres. Dan also is a busy music educator and mentor to aspiring young musicians as well as a consultant to various music educational organizations.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.
This is the author’s first novel, and from the information he includes in the author’s note, it seems that he was inspired by some tragic family history to write about the topic, and it is evident that he feels a personal connection to it.
The main details of the plot are well summarised in the book’s description. Quincy Collins is a 14-year-old boy who lives in Los Angeles, in Bel Air (in the least fancy part of Bel-Air, as he explains), and who is an actor, although most of his experience comes from acting in commercials and always playing the overweight kid. He does not mind playing the part; he meets the same heavy boy actors at most auditions, and his best friend, Cole, is one of them. He is very aware of his size, as would be expected from a teenager, and his defense mechanism is humour. He is forever making fat jokes and enjoys the fact that people find him funny and laugh with him, rather than at him behind his back. He gets lucky (he also seems to be a good actor with a particular talent for comedy) and he is cast as one of the main characters in a sitcom. The writer of the show, Paul, is also a large man, and fat jokes are a big part of Quincy’s character in the series, despite the controversy, this creates with the network executives, who are worried about a possible backlash. Things get complicated when Quincy’s health starts to suffer, and he has to make some difficult decisions that affect his size. To make matters worse the protests by pressure groups insisting that making fun of fat people is not funny and calling the jokes in the programme “hate speech” start making Quincy reconsider his attitude towards the series and wonder what is acceptable and what is offensive. Is a fat joke acceptable if a heavy person tells it? Or is it offensive regardless of the size of the comedian telling it?
This is a coming-of-age story that focuses mostly on the issue of weight, health, what is acceptable as a comedy subject, discrimination, and self-identity. The main character, who narrates the story in the first person, is likeable, although his life is not one most fourteen years old youths would easily identify with. Some aspects of it would be like a dream come true for many kids his age (avoiding school and working on TV instead; meeting big stars and having a successful career at such a young age; living in a nice house with caring parents, and a younger sister who also loves him…), while others, like his weight and his health problems, would be a nightmare for anybody. Rather than hard-hitting realism, this YA story chooses a character whose life is in the limelight and whose decisions and actions are scrutinised by all and have a much bigger impact than that of most children his age. If we all know about bullying and the way peer pressure has been magnified by social media and the way our lives are always on display, whether we like it or not, imagine what that would be like for a child actor and one whose main issue is always on display. Quincy cannot ignore what is happening around him, and no matter how hard adults try to protect him, he is faced with some tough decisions.
This is not a novel about really good and terribly bad characters. All of the important characters are likeable once we get to know them a bit, and apart from one or two who are battling their own demons, most of them just seem to be supportive, encouraging and trying to do their jobs as well as they can. We might agree or disagree with some of their opinions or points of view, but they don’t have hidden motives or are devious and manipulative.
The writing flows well; the story is set in chronological order and there are no complicated jumps or convoluted extra storylines. Quincy comes across as a very articulate and fairly smart boy, and we see him become more thoughtful and introspective as the novel progresses, gaining new insights and maturing in front of our eyes. As he acknowledges, he is more used to spending time with adults than with children, and he is empathetic and moves on from only thinking about what he wants to do and what he enjoys, to considering other people’s perspectives. The same goes for his attitude towards food. Although sometimes the process Quincy has to go through to improve his health appears, perhaps, too easy and straightforward, there are moments when his struggling to keep up control is powerfully reflected in the novel and rings painfully true.
Other than the issue of weight, which is at the centre of the novel, I don’t think any other warnings as to the content are warranted. There is no violence, no sex, no bad language, and although some diversity issues are brought up, these are not discussed in detail or gone into in any depth (they are mostly used for comparison). People worried about how offensive the fat jokes might be… Well, that is a bit of a personal matter. We don’t see examples of the actual show, so most of the jokes are those Quincy himself makes, and, in my opinion, they are pretty mild (I struggled with weight when I was a child and a teenager, and I can’t let my guard down even now, so my point of view is not truly neutral), but be warned that some of the content might be hurtful, and it might be advisable to check a sample of the book if you have doubts.
I particularly enjoyed learning more about how a sitcom is filmed, and the whole process of creation, from the rewrites of the script to the wardrobe changes, and the interaction with a live audience. It felt as if I was there, and the author’s personal experience in that world shines through.
In summary, this is a solid YA first novel, with a likeable protagonist who has to face some tough decisions and some hard truths. The ending… is very appropriate and hopeful (although I would have preferred it to end with the end, that is a personal thing), and young people who are interested in acting and/or struggle with any self-image issues (not necessarily to do with weight) are likely to enjoy and feel inspired by the book. And adults will also find plenty to think about within its pages.
Thanks to Rosie and her team for their help and support, thanks to the author for his book, thanks to all of you for reading, liking, commenting, and sharing, and remember to stay safe, and keep smiling!
I bring you a funny book. I needed a change, and I thought you might enjoy it as well.
Five Times Luckyby P. David Temple The perfect antidote for these colourless times
In FIVE TIMES LUCKY, an intrepid traveler gets more than her share of tabloid celebrity. Who hasn’t wondered what life was like inside the velvet rope of the Hollywood in-crowd? In this fast-moving comedy by P. David Temple, the quest for fame has no boundaries…but celebrity has its downside. We follow ex-actress BunnyLee Welles, who returns to Los Angeles for her best friend’s wedding and finds that she is instantly recognizable. From the customs officer to the baggage clerk to the Lyft driver, everyone knows her single-dimple smile. They mimic her. They take selfies with her. They hand her unsolicited film scripts. In the four years she has been traveling abroad, her sole commercial role for Dial-a-Denture has recently become an online meme. Like it or not, BunnyLee is now famous.
It seems like everyone BunnyLee crosses paths with is seeking to exploit her notoriety. An old boyfriend from college is using material gleaned from their relationship to further his stand-up career. Another college acquaintance, a burgeoning local TV news reporter, trades on her friendship with BunnyLee for a scoop on the evening news. BunnyLee seeks shelter in the rambling estate of an aging Hollywood heartthrob whose own career has been derailed by a years-old altercation with Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street. He can relate to BunnyLee’s plight as others in his sphere—a duplicitous chauffeur, a social-climbing cook—vie for a piece of his fame. But as much as BunnyLee strives to keep things platonic, romance is a snake lurking in the underbrush. BunnyLee borrows Buck’s vintage Mustang and hits the road with her new puppy on what begins an odyssey through a culturally conflicted modern-day America. Along the way, car trouble leads to her rescue by an injured professional wrestler whose career is a cautionary tale about trading everything meaningful in life for the chance to bask in the limelight of fame.
“An engaging tale about celebrity, love, and the search for one’s place in the world. Temple’s prose is exact and full of color, capable of both madcap humor and wistful lyricism.” — Kirkus Review
“P. David Temple’s story provides numerous laugh-out-loud moments. Its special blend of humor, philosophy, romance and adventure will keep readers involved and guessing about the outcome to the end. The story ultimately questions the price and goal of fame and fortune, using a tongue-in-cheek observational style that is simply unforgettable.” — Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review
“A delightful and skilled writer, I enjoyed every moment. The whole thing went down as easily as a glass of bubbly.“ — Mitchell Levin, Senior Script Analyst, DreamWorks.
“I love the way the characters are drawn. [Temple] has a way of crafting characters who are human—flawed and real and dimensional. And so funny.”—Shanna McNair, Founder of the New Guard
“A delicious comic novel through the underside of Hollywood’s fame game. With a sure hand for deft cinematic prose and a remarkable ear for dialogue, Temple has crafted vivid characters that are often zany, sometimes seedy and always hilarious.”—Jerelle Kraus, Art Director, The New York Times
About the author: New York-based author P. David Temple has worked in the entertainment industry in numerous capacities including director and director of photography, was a judge for the Emmys, and traveled for a stint as a cameraman for the World Wrestling Federation in the days of Hulk Hogan and André the Giant. He is a proud member of IATSE Local 52 film union. Temple has witnessed scores of Americans scaling the steps of fame. One piece of advice that he learned early on and is willing to share with the dauntless: “Be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you will be meeting them again on your way down.”
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’d like to have your book reviewed, check here), and I was provided an ARC copy of the novel, which I freely chose to review.
I didn’t know the author before I came across this novel but after checking a sample of it, I thought it would be the perfect antidote to the dreary mood that seems to hang over everything these days. I looked forward to a light read. This is a funny book (laugh-out-funny at times), but it comes with its share of serious moments as well. And I enjoyed both aspects of it.
What to say about the plot of this novel… Well, I’ve said it’s funny, and it is a comedy, or rather, it touches on several comedy genres at once: a soap opera; a romantic comedy (yes, there is a central love story and other possible ones hovering around the edges); a quasi stand-up comedy routine full of jokes; a madcap comedy at times; there are elements of physical comedy; we have big spectacle as well (and it’s easy to see how handy the author’s experience with the World Wrestling Federation has been); a more intellectual/phylosophical-style comedy, and everything in between. The description of the novel does a pretty job at providing some semblance of a plot, and the story starts with BunnyLee, a —no longer so young— woman who after trying to become an actress has been working as an English teacher in Thailand for several years and is on her way back to LA to attend the wedding of one of her best friends. She is also going to stay at her friend’s apartment for a couple of weeks while she’s away on her honeymoon, but as her luck (she’s been told by a shaman priest that she is five-times-lucky) would have it, through a series of misunderstandings (I forgot to mention the farce, didn’t I?), she ends up staying as a guest in the house of an ageing Hollywood star, Buck LeGrande, who isn’t quite ready to become a has-been yet, and their friendship/perhaps-something-else falls victim to further misunderstandings and more than a fair bit of paranoia and jealousy. Somehow, the novel becomes a road trip for a while, and a whole host of new characters join the motley crew of BunnyLee, Buck, Buck’s chauffeur (and aspiring scriptwriter), Buck’s Chinese cook (for whom popular culture, media, and his Chinese relatives seem to be the source of all knowledge), and Puddles, the dog, a labradoodle and a true star. Austin, a cowboy and WWF celebrity on his way down, is also on the road, running away from a couple of women on a pink camper van, and their paths are, of course, set to cross. Characters from the world of professional wrestling, a local cowboy, a waiter, a Native American fish and game warden, staff at a Zen spa… also come into the story, don’t ask me to explain how. If you want to know, I invite you to read the book.
Fame, the world of TV and acting, Hollywood, celebrity culture, grief and loss, philosophy and the search for meaning, family relationships… these themes and more make it into the novel as well, and as I’ve said, despite the comedic elements I felt quite touched by the story at times.
I’ve mentioned some of the characters we come across, and although a few of them play small parts, all of them are pretty memorable. The book might be written as a comedy, and we might laugh at the characters at times, but they are not mere caricatures, rather all too human, and no matter how distant they might be from our everyday experience, they are universally recognisable and have endearing and redeeming qualities, even when (or because of) they are making total fools of themselves. Because, who hasn’t been there, especially when there are toupees and tight Spandex leggings involved? (If I had to choose one character, I admit to having a soft spot for Austin, the wrestler, although it’s difficult to top Puddles).
The book is narrated in the third person from a number of different points of view, which are clearly separated in the novel, so there’s no risk of getting confused about whose perspective we are following. This is a very self-aware novel, and an omniscient narrative voice sometimes pokes fun at the whole enterprise, in an interesting exercise of metafiction. It is a very visual novel with scenes that scream to be turned into set pieces in a movie or TV series, and this is combined with digressions where characters and/or author wonder about all kind of weighty subjects, from fate, to the nature of love and life itself. We have contemplative moments interspersed with scenes that explode in a whirlwind of action, energy, and laughter creating a perfect combination of light fun and reflection.
I have highlighted many jokes, insightful and crackwise comments, and many of the scenes, but some are far too long to share. As usual, I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the novel before deciding if it is a good fit for them, but I couldn’t resist sharing a few examples of what you might find.
Like the reader of fiction, one needed to have faith in his or her author, faith in the belief that the narrator knew how best to tell the story, faith that what may have seemed like irrelevant philosophical digressions were in fact well-crafted artifices both necessay and sufficient to the telling of a compelling story.
He wasn’t afraid of heights per se. It was the depths surrounding them that gave him pause —gravity being the one law you should never tempt breaking.
Like so many icons afoot these days in the pantheon of emerging American heroes, Chief Tenaya was a confluence of mixed metaphors. He was an icon in search of a meaning.
The ending fits both the comedy and the romance conventions. It ends up in a high note, and that’s exactly what most of us need right now.
So, if you’re looking for a fun/crazy read, with a bizarre catalogue of characters, are prepared to put your faith in the author and his criteria, are happy to follow him down some unusual and unexpected paths, and are looking for a break from the grey and dreary reality, this is your antidote. I hope this turns into a TV series or a movie, because it will be a hoot.
Thanks to the author for his novel, to Rosie and her team for all their support, to all of you for reading, and remember to keep smiling, to keep safe, and to keep reading!
I bring you another one of Pen & Sword’s books, one for those of you who love movies and photographs of the Hollywood of the Big Studios and its tarnished stars.
Fallen Idols: A Century of Screen Sex Scandals (Images of the Past) by Nigel Blundell (@penswordbooks) Great pictures, some amusing and some dark stories
It’s a scandal! How often we use that phrase and what a catalogue of sins it covers. That’s what this book is all about. It is literally a catalogue of sins – committed by some of the most celebrated names on the planet.
Within these covers are startling stories of scandals during a century when screen idols seemed to vie with each other in outraging public decency. It was an age when fan fever was at its height and an endless supply of shocking revelations emerged to fuel the frenzy.
Because of the perpetrators’ superstar status, the shame of exposure was often heightened, not only wrecking reputations but often harming careers and, at least, ensuring very public humiliation.
The lessons learned from these cases of celebrity scandal (though often, it seems, not by the celebrities themselves) is that the bigger the star, the harder the fall … and that deceit and intrigue so often turn hard-won fame into instant infamy.
Nigel Blundell is a journalist who has worked in Australia, the United States and Britain. He spent 25 years in Fleet Street before becoming an author and contributor to national newspapers. He has written more than 40 books, including best-sellers on crime and royalty. He co-wrote the Top Ten exposé Fall of the House of Windsor, which first revealed the so-called ‘Squidgygate’ tape and the infidelity of both Princess Diana and Prince Charles. His other factual subjects have included military history, celebrity scandals, and ghosts and the paranormal.
Thanks to Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
A while back I read and reviewed a book in the same series ‘Images of the Past’, called The British Seaside, and I enjoyed the combination of the wonderful images and the informative and humorous text, fairly light on reading but high on entertainment value. In this case, the same is true, even with the serious subject and the unavoidable reflections on how times don’t seem to have changed so much, although now we get to hear about many of the details that in the past would have remained hidden from the general public.
I’ve always been fascinated by the history of cinema, and Hollywood, from its beginnings to now, although times have changed somewhat, and tinsel town is not what used to be (if it ever was). I have watched documentaries and read magazines about the industry, particularly about the era of the big studios, when everything seemed more glamourous and shiny than our everyday lives.
This book looks, mostly at past scandals, from the early history of Hollywood to some more recent ones, but does not include the XXI century, and although some of us, who grew up watching reruns of classics, will remember many of these stars (and some have become icons, like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe), to the youngest generation most of them will sound like ancient history. Only Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and the TV preachers are still alive, and although their controversy remains alive, it seems to have been dwarfed by most recent scandals.
This is not an in-depth study of any of the cases, but rather a quick survey with a few details of the biographies and circumstances of some of the stars, whose lives became as well-known and exposed to the public attention as that of their characters. Despite that, although I thought I was familiar with the majority of the actors and actresses the book talks about, I discovered I didn’t know many of the details, perhaps because they were not discussed at the time or have been revealed later, and many of the pictures were totally new to me (and I thoroughly enjoyed them, especially those showing the stars when they were young). I am sure, though, that experts or true fans of these actors and actresses will not learn anything new, but I enjoyed the combination of text and pictures (and I particularly relished the introduction, which offers interesting insights into the effects of some of these scandals, like the Hays Code, that went beyond the content of the movies and affected the personal lives of the stars as well), that makes it ideal as a present for people of a certain age who enjoy celebrity magazines of the time, and also for the younger generation who might not have been exposed to these stories and the old-fashioned notion of celebrity and stardom.
It is impossible to read this book without comparing many of these scandals to some of the recent ones. The big studios spent a lot of money on lawyers, on keeping the press at bay, and of course, power has always talked. Thankfully, some of the things that were considered normal practice at the time have now become unacceptable and are the subject of legal procedures.
To give you a better idea of the content, there are fourteen chapters, each focused on one of these stars: Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Jean Harlow, Errol Flynn, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Elvis Presley, Roman Polanski, Joan Crawford, Rock Hudson, Jim Bakker & Jimmy Swaggart, and Woody Allen.
I thought I’d share a couple of the quotes I’ve highlighted, so you get some idea of what to expect. Here, referring to James Dean:
“The star of East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause was bisexual and had affairs with actresses Pier Angeli and Ursula Andrews but when asked if he was gay his reply was: “Well, I’m certainly not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back!” (Blundell, 2018, p. 8).
In the chapter about the TV preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart (a fascinating phenomenon that seems pretty unique to the USA), it explains that Swaggart confessed and apologised to his congregation and the viewers of his TV channel the first time he was caught with a prostitute. But the second time, he truly spoke his mind:
“This time, rather confessing to his congregation, Swaggart brazened it out with the rebuff: ‘The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business’ (Blundell, 2018, 143).
In sum, this is a fun book for people who love anecdotes and to peep into the lives of the Hollywood famous, especially those from the era of the Hollywood big studios. If you want a brazen and amusing book, with its dark moments and plenty of pictures to get the conversation going, or are looking for a present for somebody who loves movie memorabilia, I recommend it.
Blundell, N. (2018). Images of the Past. Fallen Idols. A Century of Screen Sex Scandals. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword.
Thanks to Rosie, Pen & Sword, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!
They were two of the most talented beauties Hollywood ever produced: the elegant Joan Crawford, a former chorus girl who shot through the ranks at MGM, and the brash, tempestuous Bette Davis, a Broadway star notorious for refusing to bow to the studio bosses. Their work together in the hit film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? sowed the seeds for a mutual hatred that would consume their lives. As each fading star tried to outshine the other, lives were upended and reputations were destroyed. Glamorous, merciless, and cruel, their feud became the stuff of legends. Based on interviews the author conducted with both actresses and more than a decade of research, Bette & Joan shows the hard-drinking, hard-fighting duo at their best and worst. The epic story of these dueling divas is hilarious, monstrous, tragic, and the inspiration for the Ryan Murphy TV series Feud starring Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange. Now updated with two new chapters and a sixteen-page photo insert.
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford: two of the deadliest arch-rivals of all time. Born in the same year (though Davis swore ‘Crawford is five years older than me if she’s a day’), the two fought bitterly throughout their long and brilliant Hollywood careers. Joan became a star first, which always irked her rival, who suggested her success had come via the casting couch. ‘It sure as hell beats the hard cold floor’ was Crawford’s scathing response. According to Davis, Crawford was not only a nymphomaniac but also ‘vain, jealous and about as stable and trustworthy as a basket of snakes’. Crawford, in turn, accused Davis of stealing her glory and planning to destroy her.
The two rivals fought over as many men as they did parts – when Bette fell in love with her co-star in DANGEROUS, Franchot Tone, Joan stepped in and married him. The women worked together only once, in the classic thriller WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? in which their violent hatred of each other as rival sisters was no act.
‘Shaun Considine’s story of the two divas is vastly informative and in parts hilarious‘ SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
‘Fascinating and vastly entertaining . . . all you want is more’ TIME OUT
‘Considine’s well-researched book is an account of one of Hollywood’s most extraordinary relationships‘ DAILY EXPRESS
‘[A] Scurrilously readable twin biography’ MAIL ON SUNDAY
‘Considine’s dual biography is a guilty pleasure‘ SUNDAY HERALD
‘Brilliant, outrageous and hysterical‘ Suranne Jones (Star of BBC One’s Doctor Foster)
A candid, yet sympathetic account. Touching, nostalgic, and, above all, unforgettable. –Library Journal
Fascinating and vastly entertaining…all you want is more. –Time Out Magazine
From the Inside Flap
They were two of the most talented beauties Hollywood ever produced: the elegant Joan Crawford, a former chorus girl who shot through the ranks at MGM, and the brash, tempestuous Bette Davis, a Broadway star notorious for refusing to bow to the studio bosses. Their work together in the hit film “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” sowed the seeds for a mutual hatred that would consume their lives. As each fading star tried to outshine the other, lives were upended and reputations were destroyed. Glamorous, merciless, and cruel, their feud became the stuff of legends. Based on interviews the author conducted with both actresses and more than a decade of research, “Bette & Joan” shows the hard-drinking, hard-fighting duo at their best and worst. The epic story of these dueling divas is hilarious, monstrous, tragic, and the inspiration for the Ryan Murphy TV series “Feud” starring Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange. Now updated with two new chapters and a sixteen-page photo insert.
About the author:
Shaun Considine died in 2015 but I found an interesting interview here if you want to read about his other biographies.
The original version of this book was published in 1989, but a newly revised version was published in 2017. It contains a couple of new chapters (including a fascinating one about the new cover picture and its story), and a number of pictures from a photo shoot that took place during the filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I had never read the original but I am familiar with both actresses and have watched some of their movies (although I didn’t know either of their stories in detail).
This is a fascinating book. It contains information about the lives and the careers of both actresses (including detailed references to the original sources, when the quotes or events narrated where not directly conveyed to the writer but came from other books or interviews), and it uses as sources conversations with the actresses, with co-workers, family members, employees, and also their own autobiographies, and those written about them by others. These two women, from very different origins and whose childhoods were miles apart but who somehow ended up working in the same industry, reached the pinnacle of their careers and became rivals, in the business and in their personal lives. Although I would not say that the book solves the mystery (the two women would at times deny that there was any rivalry between them, and even when they admitted it existed, they never gave a rational explanation for it), it does offer an interesting picture of both of these women, working in a very competitive industry, trying to ensure they got their due and maintained their status. If Joan Crawford was more focused on being a film star (and cultivated that image with her dresses, jewellery, glamour, and self-promotion), Bette Davis always claimed to being the more talented and professional actress of the two (even if the book shares moments when Davis acknowledged her admiration for her rival’s acting skills, although never to her face). Joan Crawford was a consummate self-promoter and public relations (it’s impossible not to think how well she would have fared in today’s Social Media-dominated environment), and created her own persona (perhaps because she did not have a strong sense of identity due to her unhappy childhood), while Davis seemed more sure of herself, and did not always take herself so seriously (although she could be vicious and was not a good sport when she felt threatened). They both managed to do well in an industry dominated by men, and that must have taken a very special kind of person (and personality).
Apart from the captivating lives of the actresses (and there is a bit of everything: promiscuity, terrible family relationships [the daughters of both actresses wrote less-than-complimentary books about their mothers], suspicious deaths, scandals, heavy alcohol use, loneliness, desperation, lost opportunities, adultery, abandonment, bitching…), the book creates an absorbing picture of Hollywood and how the industry changed over the years. The two actresses, who were there from almost the very beginning, reached the height of their careers when the big studios ruled over American cinema, and the book illustrates this well, as both actresses were on long-term contracts with one of the big studios of the era (Crawford with M.G.M and Davis with Warner Bros). We learn, first-hand, what the system was like, both for beginners and for established stars, and experience the changes that came with the end of the studios monopoly, that caught them at a difficult age (good parts for actresses of a certain age have always been scarce), and what those changes meant for them and for the industry at large.
There are plenty of anecdotes, and we read a lot about other people in the industry, about the movies they acted on, and their interaction with others. The book is easy to read, alternates chapters about the two stars, it is full of quotes and lets the stars (and those around them) speak for themselves, with little interference from the author. Although Considine talks about the process of creating the book and he clarifies facts when he thinks he has to (always using his research), the book is not heavy on analysis, it is very amusing and entertaining, and despite the odd repetition of some material (mostly, I imagine, in the additional chapters) if flows well and it feels shorter than it is.
The book might not contain lots of brand-new information for dedicated fans of both stars (although, as mentioned, the author does include his own research and his conversations with the actresses), but it is a treasure trove for those of us who have watched some of their movies but don’t know a lot about them. It is also a very entertaining way of getting an insider’s view of the Hollywood of their time, far easier and lighter than reading historical or business accounts. Furthermore, it is impossible to read this book and not think about recent events and issues of gender-politics that are much more openly discussed these days.
The book is full of memorable quotes and I laughed out loud many times. Although Davis is the sharpest wit, Crawford can hold her own…
‘Sex was God’s joke on human beings,’ said Bette Davis in her memoirs, which led Joan Crawford to suggest, ‘I think the joke’s on her.’
‘Joan always cries a lot,’ said Davis. ‘Her tear ducts must be very close to her bladder.’
‘Guilty? Bette Davis? Don’t be foolish,’ said George Cukor. ‘She is a star, and all stars learn how to cultivate one very important asset early in their career: a very short memory. They remember only what they want to remember.’
I recommend this book to Hollywood aficionados, to fans of both stars, and in general, to people interested in stardom, the movies, and the old Hollywood. Full of juicy gossip, great quotes, newly recovered photographs, and movie anecdotes, there isn’t a dull moment in this book.
(I know there is a recent TV series called Feuds, and the first season is based on this book, although it seems it is not mentioned anywhere, with Susan Sarandon playing Bette Davis and Jessica Lange playing Joan Crawford. I have not watched it but I’m very curious about it).
Thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!
As you know I’ve been sharing new books and reviews recently. These two have just been published this week (the first one only available in hard cover at first) and I thought they might appeal to very different readers, but I enjoyed them both (in very different ways).
Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life Hardcover by Tracy Tynan A life in clothes, lived with a big heart and plenty of talent.
A candid, entertaining memoir told through clothes.
Tracy Peacock Tynan grew up in London in the 1950’s and 60s, privy to her parents’ glamorous parties and famous friends—Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and Orson Welles. Cecil Beaton and Katharine Hepburn were her godparents. Tracy was named after Katherine Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord, in the classic film, The Philadelphia Story. These stylish showbiz people were role models for Tracy, who became a clotheshorse at a young age.
Tracy’s father, Kenneth Tynan, was a powerful theater critic and writer for the Evening Standard,The Observer, and The New Yorker. Her mother was Elaine Dundy, a successful novelist and biographer, whose works have recently been revived by TheNew York Review of Books. Both of Tracy’s parents, particularly her father, were known as much for what they wore as what they wrote.
In the Tynans’ social circles, style was essential, and Tracy had firm ideas about her own clothing for as long as she can remember. Shopping was an art passed down through the family; though shopping trips with her mother were so traumatic that Tracy started shopping on her own when she was fourteen.
When Tracy started writing about her life she found that clothing was the focus of many of her stories. She recalls her father’s dandy attire and her mother’s Pucci dresses, as well as her parents’ rancorous marriage and divorce, her father’s prodigious talents and celebrity lifestyle, and her mother’s lifelong struggle with addiction. She tackles issues big and small using clothes as an entrée—relationships, marriage, children, stepchildren, blended families, her parent’s decline and deaths, and her work as a costume designer are all recounted with humor, with insight, and with the special joy that can only come from finding the perfect outfit.
“Tracy Tynan uses the universal medium of clothing to tell the highly specific story of her Bohemian British upbringing, and she does so with wit, candor and yes– style. For anyone obsessed with the intellectual gossip of yesteryear- or just obsessed with the language of fashion- this book will be a cozy bedfellow.” (Lena Dunham)
“Tracy Tynan’s memoir is a wolf in sheep’s clothing…Rich in humor and observation, its stylish tone belies the often harrowing nature of her formative years, and details with bravery and precision exactly who she was and what she wore.” (Anjelica Huston – Author of A Story Lately Told and Watch Me)
Tracy Peacock Tynan grew up in a tornado of glamorous, stylish eccentricity. So jealous!!!” (Simon Doonan -Author of The Asylum: True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion)
“Tracy Tynan takes on the paradox of style with unique flair in Wear and Tear, by hanging her book on the clothes she wore at key moments in her life. But the life of the exceptionally stylish, charming and resilient Ms. Tynan is like no other — a brilliant, famous father, a titan of culture addicted to S+M, an equally brilliant but alcoholic mother who’s become a cult writer, the promises and delusions of a life among the famous, a career as the go-to movie costume designer.
“Wear and Tear is poignant, surprising, and an enchanting inner view of what it is to come into oneself among the sacred monsters of the 20th century.” (Joan Juliet Buck)
“A page-turning memoir that affords an astonishing glimpse into rarified lives in the now-extinct Anglo-American literary jet set. Tracy Tynan inherited both her parents’ sartorial flair, and their skill with words.” (Matt Tyrnauer – Director, Valentino: The Last Emperor)
“Wear and Tear is a riveting account of life growing up as the only child of two famous and famously complicated personalities: theater critic Kenneth Tynan and writer, Elaine Dundy. Tracy Tynan recalls her fascinating and difficult childhood during the Swinging Sixties in London and New York, and the legendary actors and artists who frequented her parent’s life. She chronicles her growth as an artist, taking on myriad roles as lover, costume designer, step-mother, mother, and wife, with honesty and insights that make for can’t- put- down reading. Her independence and original style weave through the pages of her book just as they have always done in her life.” (Wendy Goodman – Design Editor, New York Magazine)
“In this wonderfully observed, elegiac, and least judgmental of memoirs, esteemed costume designer Tracy Tynan describes a society and personalities defined by style, and the ever shifting self-perception that characterizes out sized lives–and talent. Moving effortlessly between the world where post war American and British literature and cinema, theatre and politics, converge, Tynan details a now vanished golden age with wit, honesty, and that rarest of qualities—empathy.” (Hilton Als)
Wear and Tear is the first book that reveals style as a successful survival strategy. Tracy’s familial chaos required much dancing backwards in heels and looking good in the part. Written with compassion, she pulls no punches, her observations are not casual chic. A fascinating read about a creative clan. (Deborah Landis -Author of Filmcraft and Hollywood Costume)
“The daughter of celebrities reflects on fame, parenthood, and style. Costume designer Tynan makes her literary debut in a candid and entertaining memoir featuring her alcoholic, combative parents, theater critic Kenneth Tynan and novelist Elaine Dundy, and their assorted glamorous friends. Her vivid descriptions reflect her love of clothes, designers, fabrics, and, not least, shopping. Star-studded, gossipy, and engaging.” (Kirkus)
About the Author
Tracy Tynan is a costume designer and writer living in Los Angeles. Her credits include the movies The Big Easy, Blind Date, Great Balls of Fire, and Tuesdays with Morrie.
Thanks to Net Galley and to Scribner for offering me a free copy of this memoir in exchange for an unbiased review.
I knew who Kenneth Tynan was before I read this book. Although well before my time, I do love theatre, I’ve lived many years in the UK and I’d heard of his reviews, his wit, and remembered having seen pictures of him, but didn’t know much about his life. I didn’t know anything about his first wife, American writer Elaine Dundy, or his daughter Tracy, and I must admit that I’m not a big clothes buff. Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The clothes (or outfits) give name to the chapters and form the backbone of the book, assisting the author in organising her memories. I guess we all have things we remember, music, movies, books, and they help bring to our mind momentous happenings in our lives. Why not clothes, especially when they were so meaningful to her and the people she cared about?
Tracy Tynan’s life isn’t ordinary, whatever our definition of an ordinary life might be. Both her parents were popular, talented, brilliant and social butterflies. Their parties and events read like the who is who, first of London and then of the LA of the era. But they weren’t particularly gifted as parents. They seemed wrapped up on their own relationship, the people they knew, and their careers. Their daughter was often an afterthought, and even when they tried to connect with her they weren’t very skilled at it. But the author is generous to a fault and makes an effort to be fair and not to dwell or overdramatise matters. She tries hard to understand and does not moan or complain, despite having lived through pretty harrowing experiences due to her parents’ rocky relationship and to their difficult behaviour. She is sympathetic towards other’s plights and never self-apologising, something extremely refreshing.
The book is full of anecdotes but despite the many famous people the writer has met through her life this is not a scandalous book trying to exploit her connections and throw dirt at others. She always has a good word to say, even about people or actors she had a hard time with, and I got the distinct impression that she subscribes to the idea that if you don’t have anything good to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. It’s a book full of passion for clothes, for life, for her friends and family. It’s a touching and warm book although it avoids sentimentality, cheap thrills and pulling at heartstrings.
This first-person account is a beautifully written book (she seems to have inherited the writing talent from both her parents), a page turner, understated, and we get to feel as if we were reading the memoirs of a friend. The chapter about her daughter, who was born premature, reminded me of my goddaughter, who was born in similar circumstances, and it resonated especially with me. Her reflections about getting older, her experience of losing loved ones, and her more recent activity volunteering with homeless organisations and those looking after women victims of domestic violence made me realise I had more in common with this woman than I could have ever guessed when I started reading.
If anybody is worried about reading these memoirs because they aren’t familiar with the people involved or are not interested in clothes, don’t let that stop you. The book can be enjoyed by readers who know the era and many of the famous actors, writers, directors, clothes designers… who formed the social circle of Tracy Tynan’s family, but also by all those who have an interest and a passion that has accompanied them throughout their lives, who’ve survived complicated family lives, who love their friends and their families, and who don’t fear reinventing themselves once over again.
I’m not sure if the paper copies will have pictures. The Kindle review copy I was sent didn’t, but that did not diminish my enjoyment.
Underground Airlines by Ben H. WintersSome nightmares look and feel too close to reality for comfort.
‘The most timely of alternate history novels. Ben Winters has created a spellbinding world that forces the reader to look around—and to look within. This is a thriller not to be missed and one that will not be easily forgotten.’ Hugh Howey
It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it. Except for one thing: slavery still exists.
Victor has escaped his life as a slave, but his freedom came at a high price. Striking a bargain with the government, he has to live his life working as a bounty hunter. And he is the best they’ve ever trained.
A mystery to himself, Victor tries to suppress his memories of his own childhood and convinces himself that he is just a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he is desperate to preserve. But in tracking his latest target, he can sense that that something isn’t quite right.
For this fugitive is a runaway holding something extraordinary. Something that could change the state of the country forever.
And in his pursuit, Victor discovers secrets at the core of his country’s arrangement with the system that imprisoned him, secrets that will be preserved at any cost. ‘It is a rare thing when a writer has a fresh new provocative idea – and then executes it beautifully. This is what Ben H. Winters has done in his novel Underground Airlines. Imagine an America in which slavery still exists. Now imagine a dramatic telling of the story.’ James Patterson.
“Am I allowed to curse? Because holy heck, I want to. This book is shocking, bold, sad, human and wise. Put an expletive in front of each of those adjectives. It’s not post-apocalyptic fiction, but if you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this too. If you liked Station Eleven (an overused but appropriate comp!), World War Z, or Brief History of the Dead, then this is a book you should read.”―Rebecca Fitting, Greenlight Bookstore
“Underground Airlines is the rare book that actually fulfills the promise of being unlike anything you’ve ever read. The alt-world premise of a present day US where the Civil War never happened and slavery still exists in four states, is so perfect for the current dialogue about race that’s going on right now. It’s not that common to be reading a gripping page turner of a mystery and be thinking about voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates at the same time. It’s one of those books you only want to stop reading so that you can go out and start talking to people about it. I can’t wait until this book is out in the world so I can engage with other readers about it.”―Robert Sindelar, Third Place Books
“Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines is an ingenious speculative thriller wrapped around the core of our nation’s ouroboros history of institutional racism. While that may sound bizarre to some, Winters pulls it off with ease, crafting a novel that is both fantastic and scarily believable at the same time.”―Ian Kern, Mysterious Bookshop
“Ben H. Winters has crafted a timely, necessary, and gripping page-turner. The plausibility of Underground Airlines‘ central conceit is terrifying, made more so by the author’s deft blend of alternate history and modern mundanity, but the loose, often jaunty narration of its flawed protagonist, Victor, prevents its descent into hopeless, maudlin territory. Victor’s desperate pursuit of freedom or redemption, whatever the cost, propels the novel toward its inexorable and satisfying conclusion.”―Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, Kramerbooks
“Underground Airlines is a work of astonishing originality and ambition. Like the best art, it forces us to question our own assumptions. Is the machine of modern civilization really that far removed from the alternate reality that Winters presents here? We’re all implicated in this unsettling and visionary novel. Ben Winters is one brave writer.”―Patrick Millikin, The Poisoned Pen Bookstore
“I could not put Underground Airlines down. A brutal, hard-boiled detective mystery about what might have happened if Lincoln had been killed before ending slavery, it is thought provoking and vivid. It will live with you for a very long time.”―Rene Kirkpatrick, Eagle Harbor Book Co.
About the Author
Ben H. Winters is the author of, most recently, World of Trouble, the concluding book in the Last Policeman trilogy. The second book, Countdown City, was an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction. The Last Policeman was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America; it was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate.
Thanks to Net Galley and to Cornerstone Digital for providing me a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
When I read the premise of this novel, a United States where the Civil War hadn’t taken place and slavery was alive and well in modern times, I was intrigued. As part of my American Literature course I did read historical and literary texts related to the Civil War and later to the Civil Rights Movement, and I found the thought of what modern-day America might have looked like if things have gone differently both fascinating and horrifying.
The book is classed under alternative history, a subgenre that allows authors to imagine scenarios that might make readers shiver, or just reflect on how far (or otherwise) civilisation has come.
The world in Underground Airlines is on the one side very similar to the world we know (at least the bits we’re shown), and even the historical figures of importance are mentioned, although in some cases with a slightly alternative fate or role (like Lincoln’s earlier demise, and Michael Jackson’s different set of problems). Despite the genre, the book is not very heavy on history and does not hammer readers with deep analysis (there are subtle references to themes like the Mockingbird syndrome) and considering the nature of the subject it even manages to avoid heavy pulling at emotional heartstrings.
The story is told in the first person by Victor or… well, whomever he is. The main character is an African-American free man, but not really. He escaped from a slaughter house where he had been born and was supposed to spend all his life. They found his hiding place and forcefully recruited him to become an official agent who would find escapees and return them back to one of the 4 states where slavery is still legal, thanks to the 18th Amendment to the constitution. At first, Víctor made me think of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man, whereby seemingly different characters tell different stories, although perhaps they are all one and the same master of disguise. But then I thought (and saw a comment that also made that reference) about the film Blade Runner, at least if we think about the first version of the film with Deckard’s narration. Victor is somebody who tries hard not to remember anything about his past (although memories, or more accurately flashbacks, intrude every so often) or to feel anything. He has become so adept at adopting other identities that when at some point Martha —a young mother he meets early in the novel and ends up embroiled in the whole intrigue — wants to know his real name, he’s no longer sure. He also reminded me of Deckard with regards to the doubt in many people’s minds as to his real identity. Is he a human being or a replicant? Victor insist (to himself) that he does what he has to do, that he does not care about the ongoing slavery and his own safety is his only concern, that he does not believe anybody can do anything or any of his acts can change matters, but…
What seemed to be a pretty streamlined occupation for Victor starts to get complicated when he is assigned a case where he soon realises something is not what it seems. The file is not complete, the phrasing is off, and the people he meets along the way seem to be hiding something, although he doesn’t quite realise how much. Agents and double agents, twists and turns, betrayals, and a visit to the Deep South are on the cards for the man whose only goal is to not make ripples and keep to the plan.
The book is written in a style that seems to fit in with the fictional character, although for me, somehow, the picture was as fractured as the man itself. Although I have a weakness for unreliable narrators, and Victor is indeed one of them, I had difficulty connecting with him, perhaps because he was himself disconnected and avoided looking at his emotions, and I am not sure he ever became a fully-fledged character for me.
The idea behind the story is good although I wondered if people really keen on historical fiction would find there is enough detail or would like to know more than the brief tasters and snippets that are hinted at throughout the novel. Personally, the novel made me reflect on the nature of world politics and economy, as in what is considered the developed world we seem to be happy to wear or consume products manufactured in near-slavery conditions with little concern for where they come from or only paying lip service to such issues. The specific reflections on race and racism will perhaps be more shocking to readers not very familiar with the topic or who have not read novels or classic texts by authors and figures who’ve written more extensively on it.
I liked the ending, although I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure how well it fitted in with the rest (but I won’t comment in detail to avoid spoilers). The issue at the heart of the investigation that costs many people dearly was to my mind less surprising than it was built up to be (the big whatsit kind of scenario) although in truth I’m not sure what I was expecting.
In sum this is a novel that paints a scary but somewhat familiar alternative version of history in the US (an uncanny version if one wants) and makes us think about issues of race, loyalty, identity, family and global economy. It can be a good introduction to the genre of alternative fiction and has enough intrigue for readers in search of a good story.
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