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The Silver Screenby Maureen Howard
Synopses & Reviews
In a powerful novel of wit and invention, a leading voice in American letters brings us a rapturous story of lost love, guilt, and forgiveness.
Maureen Howard has long enchanted her readers with an urgent history of our extraordinary life and times. In The Silver Screen she conjures up the last days of silent movies in the story of Isabel Maher, who renounces the glamour of Hollywood and her talent. As Bel Murphy, wife and mother, she is confined to the drama of domestic life and plays it like a star.
Bel's children struggle against the lives she has scripted for them: Joe, a Jesuit priest, is unsuccessful as a healer of souls; spinster Rita runs off with the love of her life, a gangster who turns state's evidence; and there's Gemma, an angry ambitious girl, who enters the Murphys' magic circle. All three are pilgrims struggling to discard the myths of the past for the comforts and sorrows of the present. Joe's journey takes him to the war of the gospel in El Salvador; Rita's to the witness protection program; Gemma's to problematic fame as a postmodern photographer. The flickering seductions and distortions of private lives play out against the novel's rich historical awareness.
Darkly comic and truly moving, this is a brilliant exploration of the claims of the past and a passionate bid for freedom. Howard gives us the enduring pleasure of astounding writing and the superb craft of a consummate storyteller.
"This meditative entry in Howard's quartet of novels inspired by the four seasons (after A Lover's Almanac and Big as Life) is flavored by hints of summer. As the novel opens, Isabel Maher, once a minor star of silent film, dies in her house in a seaside town in Rhode Island, tended by her aging children. Joe, her doted-on favorite, a Jesuit priest troubled by his flawed past, is stunned when immediately following the funeral his younger sister Rita, long overlooked as a dumpy spinster, marries ex-mobster Manny Salgado and disappears with him into the Witness Protection Program. Floundering from this double loss, Joe boards in his old hometown with Gemma; now an award-winning photographer, Gemma spent much of her childhood as an ersatz third sibling to Joe and Rita. Howard spools out the perspectives of the four main players (Bel's voice coming from beyond the grave), gradually revealing their secrets, passions and disappointments. Though Joe and Bel are better developed than Gemma and Rita, the stories of all four are anchored by Howard's lovely and precise prose and by the complexities of communication and disconnection, the roles in which we are all cast or miscast in life. Readers of the series so far will also have the pleasure of discovering further connections between disparate characters in this wide, seasonal tapestry. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (Aug. 9)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] decorous, witty, yet intensely metaphysical family drama....The Silent Screen extends Howard's penetrating inquiry into love, art, and spirituality, and places her in accord with A. S. Byatt and Iris Murdoch." Booklist
"Meticulous and graceful, though some may find the allusions, dense sentences, and sometimes-opaque narrative a touch rarefied." Kirkus Reviews
"Sad, smart, and sometimes funny....The prose is a bit languid and the story sometimes convoluted, but the novel should find an appreciative audience..." Library Journal
"Gorgeous webs of reflection and connection....[Even] putting aside the sweep of Howard's theme, which alone would make Silver Screen a work of desolate illumination, they add a whole store of individual discoveries." Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review
The Silver Screen is the third in a series of novels that began with A Love's Almanac and Big as Life; each is complete on its own, but the characters and themes are woven as a tapestry of the four seasons.
Maureen Howard deepens her inquiry into the meeting place of history and family in this stunning and accessible novel. Isabel Murphy renounced silent-film stardom to raise a family in Rhode Island. Now she is dead at 90 and her children are trying to break free of the lives she has dealt them. Joe, a Jesuit priest, has failed at love and the healing of souls. Stodgy Rita has found late happiness with a gangster who has turned state’s evidence. And Gemma, Isabel’s honorary child, has grown up to experience a strange celebrity as a photographer. A darkly comic story of guilt, love, and forgiveness, The Silver Screen is luminous in its intelligence and empathy.
About the Author
Maureen Howard is the author of seven novels, including Grace Abounding, Expensive Habits, and Natural History, all of which were nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. She has taught at a number of American universities, including Columbia, Princeton, Amherst, and Yale, and was recently awarded the Academy Award in Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in New York City.
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