Happy New Year to you all and welcome back to the Roaring Twenties!! While the 2020s will certainly be far different from the 1920s- I for one am gonna do my best to make the 2020s have a touch of 1920s flair and style.
With the generosity of LARB Books, I have the opportunity to do a authentic 1920s book review with The Girl from Hollywood by Edgar Rice Burroughs (best known for his Tarzan works). Written in 1922 in Munsey’s Magazine but published in 1923 in novel form, this story tells the tale of the Penningtons- a brother and sister, Eva and Custer- who live on a ranch in California. It also involves characters such as fallen actress Shannon Burke, and the Penningtons neighbors/ friends Grace and Guy Evans- another brother sister duo. Other characters include Wilson Crumb, a Hollywood director-actor and Slick Allen, a ranch hand for the Penningtons.
At first I glance, I was shocked to discover this was never adapted into a movie, then began reading it and knew why: this novel has absolutely no likable character. Even though that description has perfect workings for a noir film, I then realized there would be no way to film the novel under the production code without completely altering the plot. Perhaps now that its nearly 100 years later, Hollywood producers should look at this as a possible adaption- at least it would be something never before seen!
Personally, the more I read this book, the more I disliked this book- and not due to the content (drugs, bootlegging, sexual favors for career advancement) it was just more and more despicable as the narrative went on. It then hit me that not even the plot could carry the novel, as if I don’t care about the characters, how could I care about the plot?
As mentioned, all characters in the novel are completely terrible- they all make bad decisions, and none of them have redeeming qualities. For instance, although Shannon has a “past”, she starts off as being very likable: refusing to sleep with bigwig for better parts. You even feel bad for her after she’s drugged by Wilson Crumb and becomes addicted to cocaine, however, she then loses her appeal when she becomes a drug dealer herself.
Other characters demonstrate the mold for many characters to come in both movies and books: Wilson Crumb is the typical scum in Hollywood, the one who is majorly successful by screwing over everyone else. Guy is the archetype drunk bootlegger character who tries to come out of it, but fails in in the end. Meanwhile, Grace is the young underdog who struggles to get roles, but gets herself tangled in the web. Cuter starts off as the wronged man, only to become what he was accused of. And Eva- while she is a bit of a side character, she sadly gets downgraded to that of plot device.
Overall, this novel really shows the dark side of the era, with taboo subjects and tragic endings. It reminds us that while the 1920s were liberating and free, it wasn’t immune from problems.
I would like to thank Alice from Coriolis and LARB books for sending me an e-copy of this novel. All opinions are my own and if you would like to learn more about LARB Books publication please click here.