Sunnyside, Glen David Gold, Alfred A Knopf, 2009, 553 pp
The production of illusion, the competitive spirit of creative people, the magnetic appeal of the truly adept; these are the themes of David Glen Gold and also his techniques as a writer. Carter Beats the Devil, his amazing first novel, was about a magician. Sunnyside takes us into the early world of motion pictures through Charlie Chaplin.
It is a long novel and in my opinion it is as long as it needs to be, though some critics disagreed. Gold takes a good 75 pages to get it all going. The three main characters are introduced, each with a compelling entrance, but I didn't know why the other two were there, because I had thought it was Charlie Chaplin's story. In fact, though their paths cross, you don't actually get the connection until almost the end of the book.
Meanwhile, there is plenty to enjoy. Chaplin's early years in Hollywood, his rivalry and later friendship with Mary Pickford, his crazy mother and first marriage. In fact, all of the three main characters have their difficulties with parents. Gold has the same wonderful story telling style as in his earlier novel, a combination of irony, sentiment and dazzling set pieces.
Several stunning scenes stand out including a Liberty Loan rally in San Francisco. Also a Hollywood party where Charlie meets his first wife and has a hilarious encounter with Mary Pickford's best friend. Then there is a miraculous dog rescue in the middle of war torn France. In fact, animals are everywhere in this story.
What I loved most was the insight into Chaplin's creative process, which made me want to see his pictures, something I have never done. I could say that the end of Sunnyside is hopeful but not happy. An underlying tone of sorrow permeates the story, partly because of the war and mostly because no one gets what he or she truly desires.
But I was increasingly drawn in by all the elements of this tale until when I finally came to the end, I wanted another 500 pages and more about an artist who for years was everywhere. At least I wanted another Glen David Gold book to read. I hope he doesn't make me wait so long for the next one, but if he must, I will just have to reread the first two.
(Sunnyside is available on the shelf at Once Upon A Time bookstore.)