So I am one of those people who approaches historical fiction with horror. I suppose that isn’t an approach so much as a recoil. Turns out I don’t want to read the 100,000th novel about the WWII soldier who falls in love with a nurse. No thanks. However, this book is so fantastic that it almost seems to be in a genre of it’s own. I was interested in the characters and the subject matter from start to finish and it was a lovely departure from the genre topic tropes that historical fiction gets stuck on. (I realize all genres have these annoying tropes. I just happen to personally find the ones in historical fiction to be more annoying than the others.)
This novel is about two brothers in the movie industry in the 1920’s and I had thought about that exactly never. I do love a book that makes me think and fills my brain with perspectives I hadn’t even remotely considered and everything I have learned about the movie industry before this book was from Singing in the Rain, which is a great movie but I was in it for Gene Kelly not history. This book’s discussion of race and antisemitism is pretty powerful. It doesn’t shy away from accuracy. If I am to be frank, it doesn’t let the white people get off easy. One of the major characters is profoundly attracted to black women but he’s completely fetishizing them, not respecting them. There is no Progressive White Character to give the white reader (hello) someone to believe they would have been instead of the painful reality that the world, especially America, has had a long racist past (and present). Conn also was really good at moving on once I started to run out of steam at a location. His use of landscape and location helped present different situations for the characters to be in and you could see the different facets of them. From the glamour of Hollywood to the utter displacement of white Jews in Africa, the situations vary with problems and intensity and each character gets their due of fully blossoming throughout the book. This novel approaches its own characters with humor but I immediately picked up on the heavy racial commentary in the book and deeply appreciated Conn’s commitment to accuracy. That said, the book isn’t one of those that will leave you depressed on the floor of your apartment contemplating your own privilege. The time and setting just happen to make the novel so good. This was a great novel and I would totally recommend it.
To find out more about Andrew Lewis Conn’s body of work, go to http://www.andrewlewisconn.com
Andrew Lewis Conn has written essays, short fiction, and reviews for The Believer, Film Comment, The Village Voice, Time Out New York,and the Indiana Review among others and attended writers residencies at Yaddo and Ledig House in Hudson, NY. Conn’s previous novel, P,was chosen as a best book of the summer of 2003 by Salon, Time Out New York, The Oregonian, and Nerve; one of the best books of the year by the Village Voice and the Austin Chronicle; and long-listed as “one of the best books of the millennium (so far!)” by The Millions.
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.