Harper Collins, October 13, 2015.
Hollywood in 1935 was an exhilarating place to be, especially for an inexperienced young Italian woman who spent her formative years in a convent. Alda Ducci leaves the nuns behind, to take on the role of secretary for Loretta Young, a promising new actress with a penchant for falling in love with her leading men. As she meets a mixture of real and fictional characters, Alda watches as Loretta’s relationship with Spencer Tracy falls apart. While Loretta is still recovering from this blow, she is sent to film The Call of the Wild on location – with Clark Gable.
Although Clark is married at the time, he begins a flirtation with Loretta that soon becomes much more. In an isolated ski lodge, with the heightened emotions that come from filming a movie together, the two form a relationship that is somewhat rocky but always passionate. Meanwhile, Alda meets a man on set as well, and although they live simpler lives, their relationship has its own complications.
The main issue with this novel seems to be the information that has recently come to light on Loretta and Clark’s real life relationship – at the end of her life, Loretta divulged to her family that her interactions with Gable had actually been date rape, which resulted in the conception of their illegitimate child. The child and his origins were hidden because of the codes of conduct of the Hollywood studio, and the moral obligations of its actors. It just seems like really poor timing for publication, and makes me wonder whether the novel can be appreciated simply as fiction, as opposed to being a story of non-consensual sex that was hidden in the “golden age” of Hollywood. It does cast a shadow over the novel, but I would still like to look at it on its own, as a work of fiction.
One thing that I felt was missing from the novel was complexity of emotion. The inner thoughts of the characters were very basic and simple, and more often we were told what they are doing and feeling instead of being shown through their thoughts and actions. Because of this, and also perhaps because of Loretta’s youth and her propensity to fall head over heels in love with every man she meets, it really felt like a young adult novel. It was missing the depth of adult relationships. This was especially true in Loretta’s relationship with Spencer – their love seemed more real, then out of the blue we are told that he is an alcoholic who treated her poorly, although we don’t see this anywhere in the story. Trigiani is constantly telling us about the epic love that both Loretta and Alda feel, yet I didn’t actually witness it.
For a Hollywood setting, there was surprisingly little drama. All of the characters were too nice – they were boring and unexciting. In making movies, we are told that “art changed everything: mood, climate, perception,” (102) yet that is what is missing from this novel. There is no moodiness, it is all very flat and calm. I also couldn’t get past the strange shifts in perspective. In a way it was cinematic, like a camera was following one person, and as they meet someone else, the camera follows the second person and pans away. However, it was hard to follow a train of thought that drifts into the mind of a different character.
Overall, I don’t blame this novel for the unfortunate circumstances of its publication, but I did dislike its slow pace and lack of complexity. After reading Trigiani’s epic historical novel, The Shoemaker’s Wife, I was expecting more than I got in this unexciting Hollywood drama.
I received this book for free from Harper Collins and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.