Thursday, April 09, 2009

Book: The Age of Dreaming, by Nina Revoyr (2008)

Jun Nakayama was once a huge star of the silent screen, and the first Japanese actor to achieve success in America. By 1964 he’s been all but forgotten, and Jun prefers it that way. Renewed interest in his films leads to the possibility of a comeback role. But the opportunity also forces Jun to revisit the scandalous events that drove him from the motion picture industry in 1922.

Nina Revoyr’s extraordinary novel weaves together two strands of Hollywood history – the career of Sessue Hayakawa, an unlikely sex symbol of the silent era, and the murder of director William Desmond Taylor, still one of Tinseltown’s great unsolved crimes. It’s a testament to Revoyr’s skill that the book’s mystery plot, as well worked out as it is, takes a backseat to other elements like Jun’s evocative reminiscences of the pioneering days of the movie business, and his present-day reckoning with the lies he has told himself for decades.

The voice Revoyr has created for Jun – proud and dignified, yet stodgy and repressed – allows her to show his awakening by degrees, and she also uses it to pull off an astonishing scene late in the book that reminded me of Charles Willeford’s Pick-up. All that plus a powerful conclusion. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and a must-read for fans of old Hollywood.

Miscellaneous: Links

Again repurposed from my Twitter feed.

The AV Club’s latest Gateway to Geekery focuses on classic crime fiction. I don’t know if I’d start anybody off with Red Harvest; The Maltese Falcon seems a better choice. But their read on Spillane and Thompson is interesting.

A cab ride with Orson Welles.

Slate on Howard the Duck. I’ll say this in the movie’s defense: the monster, which Clive Barker once told me he liked, kicks ass.