Tag Archives: Hollywood

Book Review: Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary

Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary (Casperian Books; 162 pages; $13.50).

                In her debut Black Crow White Lie, a semifinalist for the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Candi Sary proves she is a talented new literary voice.  Her coming-of-agetale explores adolescence and identity.  With authentic prose and a compelling plot, Black Crow White Lie is engaging, entertaining, and highly readable.

Twelve-year-old Carson Calley lives in Hollywood motels with his unstable, alcoholic mother and roams the streets.  The two have a close bond, despite her frequent inebriation.  She tells him stories of their past lives.

“We were Indians—California Indians.  This pale skin,” Sary writes, “was once native brown.  And these legs of yours were once big and strong so that you could run after deer and shoot them with your arrows, and then bring the meat back to me.”

From a very young age, his mother told him he was destined for greatness, just as he was in his previous life.  “You were the treasure of our tribe…You were destined to be the great medicine man, the great healer who would take away all the pain and disease and suffering of our people.”  In that life, though, his destiny was brutally cut short when he was killed.

After thousands of years, Carson’s mother explains, the two spirits are reunited as mother and son.  His mother is convinced that Carson has a purpose.  “You have finally come back to fulfill your destiny.  Carson…you are the great healer of our time.”

Carson does have healing powers.  When his mother is sick, he lays his hands on her and feels “tiny stars gather” in his hands.  After a few minutes, she is well again.  Carson does seem to have a very rare gift.  Yet, Carson cannot cure his own loneliness.

With his mother out late with her married lover, Carson wanders around Hollywood.  Hollywood is the perfect setting for Black Crow White Lie.  In this setting, Sary is able to people her tale with some intriguing and unique characters, people you might not find if this story had been set elsewhere.  Looking for friendship, Carson stumbles into a head shop, where he meets its owner: an albino named Casper (no, that’s not his real name).  Casper is deaf in one ear.  After Carson heals Casper, the head shop owner talks the boy into practicing in a room in the back of the store.  He accepts.  Word spreads, and long lines wait outside to see the “Boy Healer.”

Carson also meets Faris, a tattoo artist.  Faris becomes a father figure for Carson, whose father is buried in Washington, D.C. in the “cemetery of heroes.”  It is Faris who gives Carson his first tattoo, a black crow, symbolizing a story about his deceased father.

With his mother in and out, Carson relies mostly on himself.  A huge weight is on his young shoulders.  Add the heartaches of first love to the mix, and it is easy to understand the fear and anger Carson sometimes feels.

Carson thinks he knows just who he is: a son, a friend, a caregiver, and a healer.  Yet a series of stunning revelations makes Carson question who he is and what he can do.  He undergoes a crisis of identity at such a tender age.  Can he really heal the sick?  Is he a fraud?  Has his mother been lying to him all these years?

Sary handles this all with tenderness and ease.  Carson is her most well-developed character, and he drives the story.  Yet Sary’s plot is deft and satisfying.  Her setting is apropos for her story.  I can’t wait to see more of Sary’s work.  Black Crow White Lie is an indication of a highly skilled storyteller with a bright future ahead of her.

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Book Review: Misfit by Adam Braver

Misfit by Adam Braver (Tin House Books; 304 pages; $15.95).

 

            Marilyn Monroe was not born; she was the creation of both Norma Jean Baker and Hollywood.  Marilyn became one of the most iconic figures of all time yet possessed a fragile, insecure psyche.  Adam Braver’s novel Misfit explores key moments of Marilyn’s past and how they shaped her and, ultimately, how they destroyed her.  Braver’s story is a character study of the twentieth century’s most prolific sex symbol who saw herself as a misfit.  Braver shows that Marilyn should have won Best Actress for starring in the role of a lifetime—playing Marilyn Monroe.

 

Misfit, Braver says, “should not be read as a biography, or as a record of actual events.”  Instead, it is a work of fiction, “meant to examine a struggle for identity in a very public world, and the rewards and pitfalls of conforming to meet others’ expectations.”

Braver concentrates on the last weekend of Marilyn’s life: the two days she spent at Frank Sinatra’s resort on the border between California and Nevada, the Cal Neva Lodge.  In a series of flashbacks, Braver illustrates the moments that defined her.  His novel combines fact with fiction to help us better understand both the woman and the myth.

 

Even as a young girl, Braver maintains, Norma Jean felt like a misfit.  After her mentally unstable mother, Gladys, was institutionalized, Norma Jean was passed around from relative to relative and from orphanage to orphanage.  Sexual abuse occurred at a young age.  Norma Jean clung to the image of Clark Gable, an ideal man, surely a gentleman.  But Gable was a fantasy.  No wonder that she married twenty-one-year-old aircraft plant worker Jim Dougherty at the tender age of sixteen.  Norma Jean longed for a distraction, and she thought marriage to Jim could provide a means to escape her life.

 

While married to Jim, Norma Jean first slipped into the role of Marilyn Monroe.  In 1945, Norma Jean worked at Timm Aircraft plant at Metropolitan Airport in Van Nuys, California.  Norma Jean is so desperate to be liked and to be noticed that when she tells her fellow workers, mostly women, about herself, “her stories don’t always match.”  At the plant, she does not stand out.  She is just another woman working outside the home to support the war effort.

 

One day, though, her life changes.  Captain Ronald Reagan arranges for a spread of pretty girls working on airplane fuselages to appear in Yank magazine.  “That kind of story is sure to raise morale.”  The photographer, a young army private, starts snapping photographs of the women.  He gets to Norma Jean.

 

“Then,” Braver writes, “something curious happens.  The private snaps a photo of her.  And then he snaps another.”  He is transfixed by her.  “Not only does he stop moving down the line, it’s as though he’s been walled off.  He drops his bag to the floor and kicks it forward; his legs go into a horseback-riding stance, and he brings the camera up to his face with both hands and starts clicking.”  He takes “one picture after the next.”

 

Under the photographer’s attention, Norma Jean becomes someone else.  “It’s like her bones have settled into something more solid,” Braver writes.  “Her walk is poised.”  The male workers “take notice like something around her is all sexed up.”  The little girl look vanishes, “leaving a womanly confidence that is at once stunning, alluring, and a little frightening.”  It is as if Norma Jean has “grown a little larger.”  Those around her stare.  Norma Jean is not Norma Jean anymore.  She has become Marilyn Monroe.

 

And so it began.  Later, more and more photos appeared in magazines.  She eventually divorced Jim and went on to make movies.  Marriages and divorces to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller soon followed.  Both men had an image of her that she just could not live up to.  DiMaggio wanted her to be a housewife and perhaps mother.  Miller wanted her to be an intellectual.  She tried and moved to New York with him.  Marilyn studied at the Actors Studio, but she still felt objectified and inadequate.  In her eyes, she was always less than.

 

In Braver’s story, we see the enormous amount of work it took for Marilyn to be Marilyn.  She could be anything or anybody, but her role took preparation.  Often, she did what she thought people expected her to do.  For example, while filming The Misfits, the movie Miller wrote for Marilyn, she was late for scenes.  She was also popping pills.  She played the diva, but it was not a natural role for her.  She spent most of her time not preparing for her parts in films but preparing for her role as Marilyn.  Sometimes it was frustrating for her, especially when the men in her life wanted her to be someone she did not want to be.

 

The most dependable man in Marilyn’s life, Braver implies, was Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra accepted Marilyn for who she was.  As Braver writes, Sinatra was the “one solid thing for her.”  If you are hoping to find a flashback that explores Marilyn’s relationship with President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy, you will be disappointed.  Braver avoids mentioning any kind of relationship between Marilyn and the Kennedy brothers in Misfit, which is a real shame.  While such allegations can be controversial, ignoring them leaves a hole in this novel.  The Kennedy brothers, surely, shaped her just as much as the other men in her life.  Braver seems to be avoiding controversy by ignoring this subject.  Their inclusion would have made a good book an even better one.

 

During that weekend, Sinatra saw how fragile Marilyn was.  He ordered her to “pack her bags and go home.”  But even he could see she was spiraling out of control from alcohol and drugs.

 

The weekend she spent at Sinatra’s resort was the last weekend of her life.  On August 5, 1962, Marilyn was found dead, naked in her bed, by her psychiatrist.  The coroner ruled it a probable suicide.  In the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls, Sharon Tate played the pill-popping actress Jennifer North.  Upon learning she has breast cancer, Jennifer overdoses on sleeping pills.  Before she dies, Jennifer says bitterly, “All I have is a body.”  Marilyn could relate.

 

As Braver writes, the embalming fluid caused Marilyn’s breast tissue to deflate, making her chest “flat as a twelve-year-old boy.”  Mary, a co-owner of the mortuary where her body rests, is horrified.  “I can’t send her out like this,” Mary cries.  “Not in front of Mr. DiMaggio.  Or her family.”  So Mary sets out to recreate Marilyn Monroe.  She gathers all the cotton she can find from the supply cabinet and fills Marilyn’s bosom with handfuls of cotton.  “Now that looks like Marilyn Monroe,” Mary affirms.  The embalmer initially thought it would make her body look freakish, but he is astounded as the cotton “makes her look strangely more lifelike…”  The embalmer cannot help but think of DiMaggio and how he will feel as he looks at Marilyn for the last time.

 

DiMaggio, the embalmer believes, will be pleased with how good Marilyn looks.  He thinks of what will go through former baseball star’s head as he looks at his former wife.  DiMaggio, the embalmer thinks, will blame her death on Hollywood.  He “can’t help but suspect that this version of her actually is the one Mr. DiMaggio wants to remember, and that has got to be a killer because it means he, Joe DiMaggio, is a part of it too.”

 

At the end, Marilyn is just a body.  To a lot of people, though, that is all she ever was.  But Marilyn was much more complicated than that.  Fact or fiction or something in between, Braver’s Misfit is fascinating.  When Marilyn exits stage left, you will be on your feet shouting “Bravo!”

 

 

 

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Book Giveaway: The After Wife by Gigi Levangie Grazer

I am hosting a book giveaway of The After Wife by the incomparable Gigi Levangie Grazer.

About the book:

“Gigi Levangie Grazer, the New York Times bestselling author of The Starter Wife, returns with a hilarious and spirited tale of love—both lost and found.

L.A. is no place for widows. This is what forty-four-year-old Hannah Bernal quickly discovers after the tragic death of her handsome and loving husband, John. Misery and red-rimmed eyes are little tolerated in the land of the beautiful. But life stumbles on: Hannah’s sweet three-year-old daughter, Ellie, needs to be dropped off at her overpriced preschool, while Hannah herself must get back to work in order to pay the bills on “Casa Sugar,” the charming Spanish-styled bungalow they call home.

Fortunately, Hannah has her “Grief Team” for emotional support: earth mother and fanatical animal lover Chloe, who finds a potential blog post in every moment; aspiring actress Aimee, who has her cosmetic surgeon on speed dial; and Jay, Hannah’s TV producing partner, who has a penchant for Mr. Wrong. But after a series of mishaps and bizarre occurrences, one of which finds Hannah in a posh Santa Monica jail cell, her friends start to fear for her sanity. To make matters worse, John left their financial affairs in a disastrous state. And when Hannah is dramatically fired from her latest producing gig, she finds herself in danger of losing her house, her daughter, and her mind.

One night, standing in her backyard under a majestic avocado tree, in the throes of grief, Hannah breaks down and asks, “Why?” The answer that comes back—Why not?—begins an astounding journey of discovery and transformation that leads Hannah to her own truly extraordinary life after death.”

About the author:

“Gigi Levangie Grazer has written numerous screenplays, among them the movie Step-mom, starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. Her first novel, Rescue Me , was published by Simon and Schuster in June 2000. Her next novel, Maneater, was published by Simon and Schuster in June 2003. The Starter Wife, her third novel, was published in June 2005. Her fourth novel, Queen Takes King, was published in June 2009.

Her fifth novel, The After Wife, will be released July 10, 2012 from Random House.”

About the giveaway:

Giveaway is open to residents of the United States and Canada only.  Your book will come directly from the publisher.  To enter, simply provide your name and current email address.  I will email you privately for your mailing address.  One winner will be chosen at random on Friday, July 13, at 3 PM ET.

Here’s your chance to win a copy of Gigi’s wonderful new book!

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