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Sunnysideby Glen David Gold
A great American novel, Sunnyside contains multitudes. Glen David Gold follows his bestselling debut (Carter Beats the Devil) with an audaciously imagined history of Hollywood at the start of World War I, so unceasingly vibrant that even the book's credits are a pleasure to read.
"There are so many dazzling episodes — in such a wide variety of settings in so many different styles and tones — that I began to think there was nothing Gold couldn't do." Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (read the entire Washington Post Book World review)
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of the acclaimed best seller Carter Beats the Devil comes a grand entertainment with the brilliantly realized figure of Charlie Chaplin at its center: a novel at once cinematic and intimate, thrilling and darkly comic, that dramatizes the moment when American capitalism, a world at war, and the emerging mecca of Hollywood intersect to spawn an enduring culture of celebrity.
Sunnyside opens on a winter day in 1916 during which Chaplin is spotted in more than eight hundred places simultaneously, an extraordinary mass delusion. From there, the novel follows the overlapping fortunes of three men: Leland Wheeler, son of the world's last (and worst) Wild West star, as he heads to the battlefields of France; snobbish Hugo Black, drafted to fight under the towering General Edmund Ironside in America's doomed engagement with Russia; and Chaplin himself, as he faces a tightening vice of complications — studio moguls, questions about his patriotism, his unchecked heart, and, most menacing of all, his mother — to finally make a movie as good as he was.
With a cast of enthralling characters, both historical and fictional — Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, a thieving Girl Scout, a lovestruck film theorist, Russian princesses, even Rin Tin Tin — Sunnyside is a heartrending, spellbinding novel about American promises both kept and betrayed.
"From the bestselling author of Carter Beats the Devil comes an elegant blend of reality and fiction, war drama and Hollywood glamour. Gold sets into motion his cameo-heavy, multipronged plot with a bizarre incident in winter 1916, when Charlie Chaplin is spotted simultaneously in 800 places across the country, causing mass hysteria and panic. The primary story line follows Chaplin's struggles with women, creativity, film budgets and his opposition to the war. In a second, intersecting world, Leland Wheeler moves from the hinterlands to San Francisco with dreams of being a film star. He rechristens himself Leland Duncan, and though he gets shipped to the battlefields of France, the two ailing puppies he finds over there later provide his entre to the movie biz. Finally, Hugo Black is a Detroit gentleman who volunteers for the infantry in an uncharacteristic whim and finds himself fighting in America's secret invasion of Russia. The result is a dramatic narrative of chance and coincidence, and also a serious reconstruction of an evolving social landscape. It is wholly exhausting and entirely satisfying: to borrow an idea from Chaplin's great personal-artistic quest in the book, it's a work as good as Gold." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Glen David Gold's new novel takes its title and perhaps too much of its spirit from Charlie Chaplin's weirdest movie, a rare financial flop called "Sunnyside." At just 34 minutes long, the 1919 film cobbled together several incongruous scenes, including some classic slapstick, a surreal dance with wood nymphs, a violent suicide and a baffling happy ending. Having already made more than 60 movies before... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) he was 30, the Little Tramp could take a pass for this creative misstep, but Gold sees the film as the culmination of personal and professional crises in the artist's life, and uses it as the finale to this brilliant though swollen biographical novel. Fans of his delightful first book, "Carter Beats the Devil," have waited eight years for this second one — at that rate Joyce Carol Oates would have to live to 400 — but it's obvious now what Gold has been up to. "Sunnyside" is like the smartest kid in the class, who calls out the answer to every question. Gold doesn't just know Chaplin's life and work and the lives and works of fellow movie stars Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Rin Tin Tin, et al.; he also knows everything about cameras, the psychological theories of Hugo Munsterberg, the development of the studio system, diamond cutting, lighthouses, World War I finances, machine guns and a thousand other subjects that burst from this fire hose of a novel. With that warning, I say, jump into the spray. As discombobulating as the book is as a whole, its parts are magnificent, and "Sunnyside" is flooded with funny, horrible and downright bizarre details of early 20th-century life. Gold's dexterous voice can swing from the exuberant melodrama of silent film to the terror of doomed soldiers to the quiet despair of the world's most beloved man. Arranged like an old-time afternoon at the movies, "Sunnyside" begins with a "Newsreel" about a strange mania that gripped the nation on Nov. 12, 1916: All over the United States, for no apparent reason, people either believe they see Charlie Chaplin or are about to. In rowboats adrift at sea, in hotel lobbies, on baseball fields, at church picnics, in trains pulling into stations, everywhere people fall victim to this contagious delusion, dubbed "Chaplin-itis" by the Kansas City Star. It's a wide-angle, deeply amusing opening that sets the theme for Gold's exploration of the power and mystery of mass media. At this early point, the novel branches into three separate story lines. The effect is not so much like watching a triple feature as it is like darting in and out of every theater at the multiplex. In one, a priggish teenager named Hugo Black finds himself fighting in the Allies' disastrous (and largely forgotten) battle against the Bolsheviks in the frozen forests of northwest Russia. Another focuses on Leland Wheeler, a drop-dead-handsome young man who dreams of becoming a movie star but ends up servicing warplanes in France and returns home with the world's first canine celebrity. And the third story, the main one, follows Chaplin's tumultuous life during the war years when he moved through several women, became the highest-paid entertainer in the United States, canvassed the country to raise money for the War Department and helped found United Artists. There are so many dazzling episodes — in such a wide variety of settings in so many different styles and tones — that I began to think there was nothing Gold couldn't do. He creates a hilarious Wild West show a la Buffalo Bill that travels through prewar Berlin: covered wagons, drunken stunts, mock shootouts between cowboys and Indians. His portrayal of the Liberty Loan rally in San Francisco calls up a cast of thousands, choreographed in a celebration that borders on a riot. There's a battle scene in Russia involving a runaway train that's as comic as it is electrifying. Hollywood's rapidly developing climate of extravagance, insecurity and scandal is here, too, of course. And he's just as successful with intimate, poignant scenes, like the beach party put on by Samuel Goldwyn during which Chaplin sweats like a nervous teenager or the dinner prepared by abandoned Russian princesses in a forest overrun by communists. Most important, Gold has figured out how to make Chaplin strut and feint and dance in print. His depiction of him as a director — ordering up sets and costumes and actors one minute, canceling them the next — rings with all the music of the genius at work. In scenes of rich psychological acuity, Gold captures Chaplin's crippling depression, his sense of being constrained by his audience, his financiers and his own impossible standards, despite living at the center of "a tulipomania of appreciation." He is, as Gold says, "the physic of laughter who could never heal himself." But — uncle! — there's so much here, a great thundering jangle of characters, plots, subplots, detours and anecdotes. E.L. Doctorow has trained us to read these composite stories that weave together history and fiction, but Gold stretches this form to the ripping point. The connective tissue between all these wonderful scenes is usually missing or obscure, which pushes an inordinate amount of work onto the reader. And yet even as my patience wore out, Gold would suggest some startling correlation that reassured my faith in his ability to manage this operatic cast. Everything eventually turns on his exploration of cinema's intoxicating influence on human consciousness. Seeing the Kaiser on the toilet reading Photoplay while his empire collapses, or watching Bolshevik peasants project Mary Pickford's face on a sheet in their dark church — in such strange moments the cascading pieces of this novel suddenly lock into place in the most evocative ways. Gold manages to convey how the reproduction and distribution of moving images enflames our imaginations and alters our nature like nothing else since the dawn of religion. For all its heavy demands, "Sunnyside" offers a wealth of wit and pathos and insight, and who better to guide us through this transformational moment in history than the Little Tramp? You can follow Charles on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roncharles. Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Gold [is a] masterful storyteller... The cascade of historic details Gold generates is breathtaking, but it is his electrifying characters, wildly inventive action replete with comedic mishaps and witty dialogue, and trenchant insights into the absurdity of war and the mythic dimension of movies that gather force and velocity to make this such a hilarious, brilliant, and transporting novel." Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
"A breathless stupendous novel that recreates both a young brash America on the verge of becoming itself, and Chaplin, one of its most bewitching quixotic citizens. From lighthouse to Hollywood to starlets to war to stardom to madness to genius Gold's startling narrative carries us across the world and back. Gold proves himself yet again to be the hungriest craftiest funniest and most humane novelist we have." Junot Díaz
"Gold's tale strains from overreach now and again, but that is the price one pays for such ambition — and this is an ambitious, very well-written book full of memorable moments, not least of them starring Rin Tin Tin. Historical but not didactic, in the manner of the master of the genre, E.L. Doctorow, and more completely realized than Gold's debut." Kirkus Reviews
"Gold, a gifted, resourceful writer, juggles all these narrative balls with aplomb, producing the entertainment of a great read along with the you-are-there intimacies of historical fiction." Jeffrey Burke, Bloomberg News
From the author of the acclaimed bestseller Carter Beats the Devil comes a novel that dramatizes the moment when American capitalism, a world at war, and the emerging mecca of Hollywood intersect to spawn an enduring culture of celebrity.
Glen David Gold, author of the best seller Carter Beats the Devil, now gives us a grand entertainment with the brilliantly realized figure of Charlie Chaplin at its center: a novel at once cinematic and intimate, heartrending and darkly comic, that captures the moment when American capitalism, a world at war, and the emerging mecca of Hollywood intersect to spawn an enduring culture of celebrity.
Sunnyside opens on a winter day in 1916 during which Charlie Chaplin is spotted in more than eight hundred places simultaneously, an extraordinary delusion that forever binds the overlapping fortunes of three men: Leland Wheeler, son of the worlds last (and worst) Wild West star, as he finds unexpected love on the battlefields of France; Hugo Black, drafted to fight under the towering General Edmund Ironside in Americas doomed expedition against the Bolsheviks; and Chaplin himself, as he faces a tightening vise of complications—studio moguls, questions about his patriotism, his unchecked heart, and, most menacing of all, his mother.
The narrative is as rich and expansive as the ground it covers, and it is cast with a dazzling roster of both real and fictional characters: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Adolph Zukor, Chaplins (first) child bride, a thieving Girl Scout, the secretary of the treasury, a lovesick film theorist, three Russian princesses (gracious, nervous, and nihilist), a crew of fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants moviemakers, legions of starstruck fans, and Rin Tin Tin.
By turns lighthearted and profound, Sunnyside is an altogether spellbinding novel about dreams, ambition, and the dawn of the modern age.
About the Author
Glen David Golds first novel, Carter Beats the Devil, has been translated into fourteen languages. His short stories and essays have appeared in McSweeneys, Playboy, and The New York Times Magazine. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Alice Sebold.
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