Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Girls in the Picture

Title:  The Girls in the Picture
Author:  Melanie Benjamin
Publication Information:  Delacorte Press. 2018. 448 pages.
ISBN:  1101886803 / 978-1101886809

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Lately, the line between real life and movies has begun to blur."

Favorite Quote:  "We remembered these identical experiences differently - but that didn't make them any less truthful. Two people could look at something - like this photograph - and see two different stories."

Screenwriter Frances Marion and movie star Mary Pickford were the best of friends until they were not. By the end of her career, Frances Marian wrote over 300 scripts and produced over 130 movies, including those she worked on with Mary Pickford. She was also the first writer to win two Academy Awards. Mary Pickford starred in over 50 movies in her career. She was not a child star per se, but she embodied the role of the ingenue to the point that her career as an actress could not proceed beyond the public perception of her as that character. Both are universally recognized throughout the film industries as pioneers and masters of the art of film.

The book begins at the end of the story. Frances arrives at Mary's house. They are both aging. Mary refuses to see Frances. Then, the story goes back to the beginning of their friendship in their twenties and the long path that they travel together. Through this lens, the book captures the evolution of the Hollywood film industry from the silent flickers to the talkies. It looks at the male domination of that industry and the struggle of these young women to have their voices heard. It paints a picture of both their personal lives and their professional achievements. Most personally, the book is a story of friendship and sisterhood, with all the love, conflict and forgiveness that entails.

Given that this is a story of two strong women, I find it odd that only one of them is a narrator. Frances's side of the story is told as a first person narrative. Mary's side of the story is a third person narrator. It makes an odd construct because what I learn about Mary seems to come through Frances's eyes. Both characters are developed, but I do feel that the gap of Mary's voice. I want the other side of the story. It also creates an imbalance between the two characters. Perhaps, that is deliberate given how their story goes, but it is nevertheless challenging to read. It feels as if a piece is missing.

Given that this is a story of two strong women, I also find it odd how much of the book focuses on their relationships with the men in their lives. In a professional setting, these conversations almost a hundred years could be part of the #metoo conversations taking place today. (I guess we haven't come that far in 100 years). The points about harassment, male domination, and a glass ceiling are relevant to the struggles of these women. What I find less relevant are the simpering sections that basically read romance. Those I can do without.

Given that this is a story of two strong women, I find it most odd that the characters don't jump off the page and come to life in their strength. It begins with the cover art, where the image looks nothing like the two main characters. Neither does it portray the direct look of strength and confidence. Within the story, this may be due to the pacing. History tells us of the accomplishments of these women; the fictional story seems to drag and get bogged in the details at times.

Nevertheless, as historical fiction, the book accomplishes one thing I love about the genre. I read the fiction, and then take off on a treasure hunt for the facts of the history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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