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Cheat and Charmerby Elizabeth Frank
Synopses & Reviews
Twenty-five years in the making, a first novel that has already been compared to The Sun Also Rises and The Last Tycoon, Cheat and Charmer is certain to be one of the most admired literary debuts of the season. Written by Pulitzer Prize?winning biographer Elizabeth Frank, Cheat and Charmer is a masterful and richly detailed work of fiction — a Tolstoyan novel of marriage, sisterhood, art, politics, compromise, and betrayal set in Hollywood, New York, Paris, and London of the 1950s.
Dinah Lasker grew up in the shadow of her sister, Veevi, a stunning beauty and emerging star who enchanted both the Hollywood set and its imported New York literati. But Veevi's home was also a hotbed of political activity, owing to her marriage to Stefan Ventura, a Bulgarian filmmaker and high-profile Communist. At the end of the 1930s, when things go badly for him in Hollywood, Ventura and Veevi flee to Paris and into the lengthening shadows of Hitler and fascism.
Cut to 1951, when Dinah is subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, which threatens to ruin her husband, Jake, and derail his successful career as a Hollywood writer, producer, and director unless she cooperates. Can Dinah live with herself if she names Veevi — whom she both loves and loathes — in order to save her husband and preserve her idyllic married life? The choices Dinah makes set in motion an unforgettable chain of events. Like Anna Karenina, Dinah must face the consequences of her choices and her needs.
Written with elegance and style, Cheat and Charmer grippingly dramatizes the interior lives of Dinah, Veevi, Jake, and their social circle. Spanning decades and following complex characters on their impassioned pursuits through America and Europe, this is a novel of grand scope, about love and deception, idealism and accommodation, the lies we live, and the truths we cannot avoid.
"Twenty-five years in the making, this Hollywood novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Frank (Louise Bogan: A Portrait) is a rich meditation on family, sex, responsibility and betrayal. Dinah Lasker, happily married with two children to successful Hollywood producer-writer-director Jake Lasker, finds her world upended when she is called to testify at the HUAC hearings of the Communist-baiting 1950s. To refuse would mean her husband will be blacklisted; to comply means she must 'name' her sister, the always more glamorous Veevi, an unrepentant former Communist and actress living in Paris. Dinah's decision to testify takes place early in the novel and torments her throughout the decade or so that follows, but Frank gradually reveals that 'fink' Dinah is really the only decent character in town. Former friends cut her socially; Jake philanders unrepentantly; and Veevi, who is forced to move in with Dinah in Hollywood, begins an affair with Jake. Frank adopts some of the stylistic conventions of mainstream 1950s fiction to mixed effect, but she does a stupendous job of allowing the reader inside each character's self-justifying world view while placing their actions in a larger context. Dinah, far from being a simple do-gooder, is a sympathetic and complex character, and her deep love for her downward-spiraling sister and her ladder-climbing husband is as heart-wrenching as her eventual bid for independence. Agent, Joy Harris Literary Agency. (Oct. 12)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[An] ambitious first novel....It's filled with sharply etched supporting characters....But Frank excels most in rich, deep characterizations....Think of a really, really good John O'Hara novel. Frank has delivered the goods." Kirkus Reviews
"Frank took 25 years to write this book, and it shows — the story is rich but also overstuffed. It's just the thing for those who would welcome a domestic saga with authentic period details and touches of Tinseltown glam, and won't be put off by the length." Booklist
"Cheat and Charmer is an ambitious if dispiriting reminder that morality is a slippery slope on which it can be hard to gain a firm foothold." San Francisco Chronicle
"Elizabeth Frank deftly explores a singularly ignoble era of American history with her towering debut novel, Cheat and Charmer." BookPage
"[A]n old-fashioned Hollywood sudser....By the end of the book, the reader will have been treated to all manner of tacky scenarios...all rendered in the cheesiest, most sensational fashion." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"[A]n engrossing read....It's an overstuffed sofa of a book and one that may not appeal to those of more minimalist taste....It is a book, like that enveloping couch, that feels good to sink into." Denver Post
"Cheat and Charmer has inexplicably been compared...to The Last Tycoon and The Sun Also Rises. Those enduring classics...covered roughly the same time and places but they evoked a profound sense of disillusionment that Frank can't match." Detroit Free Press
"Every novel has a basic promise to fulfill: to make things matter. Cheat and Charmer doesn't quite accomplish this." Miami Herald
"[A] big, bustling, old-fashioned novel inhabited by outsize characters....Good, entertaining reading; recommended." Library Journal
"Cheat and Charmer is a big, ambitious, utterly gripping novel about Hollywood, screenwriting, marriage, sex, sisters, women in the l950s and, above all, the blacklist, which destroyed so many lives and corrupted so many souls. Against the background of the big studios, with their glamor and greed and powerbroking, Frank highlights the moral odyssey of one decent woman faced with a terrible choice. Dinah's story is not only unputdownable, it's unforgettable." Katha Pollitt, author of Reasonable Creatures
"This magnificent novel will take a front seat in contemporary American writing." Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart
"Elizabeth Frank has worked a large canvas — Hollywood, the expatriate community in Paris, the inifnitely complex workings of marriage and adultery, sibling rivalry, betrayal and revenge — and made it real. Her grasp of the period detail achieves perfection, and her grasp of human nature is formidable. Cheat and Charmer is to the 1950s what The Sun Also Rises was to the 1920s: an indelible portrait of a generation." James Atlas
"Cheat and Charmer begins with an act of betrayal that escalates with dazzling skill and moral complexity into every form of betrayal imaginable. The book is deeply felt, beautifully imagined, filled with memorable characters. The few times I put the book down to leave the house and do reality things, I found myself missing the world of this book and hurried happily back home to it. Elizabeth Frank has written the great Hollywood blacklist novel. I'd happily put Cheat and Charmer on a shelf with Day of the Locust and The Last Tycoon." John Guare
"Cheat and Charmer is a magnificent novel. Elizabeth Frank captures the lives of artists and the elite world of Hollywood royalty with authenticity, brilliance, and heart." Mia Farrow
"An irresistible Hollywood family saga of the McCarthy blacklist, which from the start thrusts the reader into the awful moral dilemma of naming names — even a sister's — or losing everything; then it plays out the consequences against the backdrop of the 1950s, with a Dickens-like profusion of recognizable social types. It is an unrelenting pleasure to read." Rock Brynner, author of Yul, The Man Who Would be King
About the Author
Elizabeth Frank won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for her biography Louise Bogan: A Portrait. She is also the author of Jackson Pollack and Esteban Vicente. She has written many articles and book reviews on art and literature for The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Art in America, among others. She is the Joseph E. Harry Professor of Modern Languages and Literature at Bard College.
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