Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Sunnyside of World War I

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold is the story of the magician, Carter the Great, and obscure but important things that were going on in the US at the time that he was performing.  While the book was well received by critics, it had the misfortune of being released in September 2001.  That was a horrible month for the US in general, but to make matters worse for GDG, it was also the month in which The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen was released.  As a result, Carter was so overshadowed that it didn't receive the attention that it was due.

In 2009, Glen David Gold released his second book, Sunnyside, to even less fanfare.  In fact, unless you were a fan of GDG, you probably missed it.  I actually didn't hear about Sunnyside until the paperback was released a year later.  I put off reading it because I hadn't read any great reviews, but eventually, I was curious enough about what GDG had been up to since writing Carter that I decided to give it a read.

Sunnyside  is the story of several unrelated characters during the period of America's involvement in World War I.  The primary story lines involve Charlie Chaplin, a soldier from Detroit named Hugo Black, and a man named Leland Wheeler who hoped to make it big in show business.  Other characters include a girl scout/jewel thief, a man obsessed with a movie star, and a family of Russian royalty.  The most successful plots involved Chaplin and Wheeler.  The other stories really didn't resolve themselves, and seemed almost unnecessary.

Chaplin's story concerned his conflicts in trying to make great comedies in a time of war.  To further complicate matters, Chaplin was struggling to find a plot for his movie, Sunnyside, while the movie industry itself was undergoing major changes.

Wheeler's story follows him from a lighthouse to a stage, a war, and a jail.  His character learns to train dogs in a way that reminded me of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.  In fact, I found myself fantasizing that Wheeler was Edgar's dad, and that Wheeler's story was how the Sawtelles really started raising their dogs.  Since Wheeler was an only child, this would also eliminate the problem of Edgar's horrible uncle who caused him so much misery.

Although I liked Sunnyside,  it is not as good as Carter.  I'm not sure why so many characters were introduced, and given detailed plots, only to drift away in the end.  It may be that GDG just wanted to add characters and twists to keep the reader guessing about which character would find a happy ending.

Next up:  The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

NOT listening to:  The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant.  I normally give books 100 pages before I give up on them, and I have now decided that three discs is enough time to give a CD.  This just wasn't the story for me.  Although I think that it will be the story behind a famous painting, at three discs in, the story was still focused only on the girl who I assume will become the model, and the artist's name has not yet been spoken.  That's enough for me.

Next up on CD:  The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

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