A true Melanie Benjamin book – this one follows he intertwined lives of Frances Marion and Mary Pickford from the birth of the movie industry through the late sixties. Told with a feminist slant, we are privy to the challenges and successes of two determined, intelligent, women rising to the top of their fields while dealing with fanny pinching, disdain, and outright hostility.
As always, Benjamin imagines the dialog, internal landscape, and behind closed doors events of the story beyond what is documented in historical sources. I’m always a little uncomfortable with this as we of course don’t really know what was going through their minds (as Benjamin readily admits) but it makes for a very compelling story.
For history buffs, the readily documented portions of the story are fascinating all on their own – Mary Pickford started the first artist run studio along with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and DW Griffith known as United Artists. Frances Marion was the highest paid scenarist (the name for script writers before the talkies) in Hollywood. There are lots of tidbits about what Southern California was like before the movie business really took off, and how it evolved into what we know today. Part biography, part history, part drama, this is another fascinating and highly accessible look into an intriguing piece of history.
This was a spectacular book! I was reluctant to read it because I have found many of Erdrich’s books to be depressing and I don’t like to read books that are all about the down, however I had to read it for a book club and am so grateful that I did. Erdrich has written many stories about the Ojibwa Indians and they often focus on oppression, poverty, and social ills. This book, however, is a new story, not a retelling of an old story. While the problems are not ignored, the focus is on how people are moving forward and trying to make the best of what they have and are.
This is literary fiction at its best. While other authors describe the thoughts and actions of their characters, Erdrich manages to capture their very essence with her breathtakingly beautiful prose. I found myself reading very slowly just so as not to miss anything (and frankly, I am usually a skimmer when it comes to descriptive passages!). Not a single character is a stereotype – each is fully drawn in all their complexity Each of her characters has a depth, and a background, and we are given insight into how they became what they are and how they are continuing to transform through their life.
This book will stick with me for a long time.
I loved this book! A heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loyalty, and survival told against the backdrop of two World’s Fairs in Seattle: the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exposition of 1909 and the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Ernest, Fahn, and Maisie are three children who find their way to the Tenderloin – a high class brothel in Seattle’s red light district – in the early 1900s. Each has their own haunting back story but they are united by a strong drive to survive and a deep caring for each other. This is a coming of age story, told in alternating segments with Ernest’s story in 1962. The mood painted is wistful, a little sad, and replete with innocence slowly seeping away and being replaced by kindness, defiance, and determination.
Fans of historical fiction will enjoy the attention to detail Ford gives to the mood and surroundings of the two time periods. Events such as Halley’s Comet, the Panama Canal, the rights of women to vote, and the details of Seattle mayoral races and their impact on the moral structure of the city are sprinkled throughout the tale. Fans of literary fiction will enjoy the delicious writing which infuses mood and sentiment throughout a plot that describes historically accurate events and the impact on a diverse set of characters. Each character – from the primaries to the secondaries – are interesting, well drawn, and bring a unique perspective to the story. All and all a great read.