Friday, October 12, 2012


Two Weeks in Another Town, Irwin Shaw, Random House, 1960, 372 pp

Another novel about Americans in Rome, as was The Imperfectionists, but much better. The era is postwar mid 1950s. Jack Andrus was a hot Hollywood star in the 1940s until World War II completely disrupted his life. He served in the army, came home wounded and scarred, lost both his place in the movie industry and his wife, then emigrated to Paris.

As the novel opens he is married to a French woman of the conservative French wife and mother type. They have two children, have spent whatever passion they once had, and Jack has a boring administrative post in NATO. A call from his old director changes everything.

Off he goes to Rome for two weeks to help his one-time friend in an attempted comeback as a player in the world of cinema. All of Jack's past comes back to haunt him and he spends the two weeks working it out. It is a satisfying, dramatic story because Irwin Shaw struck that magic balance between literary chops and storytelling.

Because I have done so much reading about Europe in the 1950s recently, including the Simone de Beauvoir memoirs, I felt familiar with the Paris and Rome portrayed. Shaw was a screenwriter early in his career and some of his novels, including this one, were made into movies. He knew the movie world from financing to studios to stars. He also had his fingers on the pulse of society and since he lived in Europe from 1951 onwards, had a wider view than some of the America-centered novelists I have read from those years.

I was entertained throughout. Perhaps he went a shade too far on the melodrama but I admired the skill with which he put the reader into the minds and hearts of his characters while imbuing the story with a sense of menace. Life in the late 1950s was not as dull and "normal" as it looked on the surface, especially in Europe. Two Weeks in Another Town offers a glimpse into those times.

(Two Weeks in Another Town is out of print, so best found in libraries or through used booksellers.)

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