Thursday, March 05, 2009

Douglas Sanderson

I was looking for something to read yesterday, couldn't find anything that grabbed me so I started looking back through some of my old Stark House bound galleys. Last week I read the forthcoming Benjamin Appel pair of novels and they are both Appel at his street best.

I ended up looking at the galleys for Douglas Sanderson's two two-fers. For some reason I don't think I ever got around to reading the second of the two books in the first volume, Catch A Falling Star.

This is a wild melodrama that, in the first ten thousand words, reads almost like middle-period Irwin Shaw. A broken-down screenwriter blamed for the death of his starlet wife--a very nasty lady turned into a martyr by the studio so they could hustle her old pictures. The time period here is the early 1950s when Hollywood was becoming more TV than feature films. The way Sanderson writes--his mourning for the old days--has an edge of true alcoholic remorse for the days that will never come again.

Because he did slap his wife the night she piled up her car and died in its flames...because the studio had spent muy dollars in magazines and tv getting her martyr image out there...he was ousted from Hollywood. He went back East, kept drinking and had a breakdown. We pick him shiortly after he leaves the sanitarium.

This is not a wonderful guy. He pays for his sins in complex bursts of guilt. But even when he feels guilt he can never quite forgive his wife for betraying him again and again. There's a strain of Kenneth Fearing here and it only makes the novel better.

Our man comes back to Hollywood and tries to get a script job. Not much luck (he goes to an old friend, a bawdy female agent who has real power. There's a finely drawn scene when he enters her lobby, all the wanna-bes sitting in chairs praying that she'll see them.) But she can't help him.

By luck a fading macho movie star he once wrote for summons him to the manse. He wants our guy to write a script based on a recent bestseller, an enormous epic that no studio will ever back. This is a Norma Desmond moment--the star, in his forties, wants to play a twenty year old fully capable of derring-do and laying the ladies. Really funny stuff here as our protagonist pretends to be writing this all down and agreeing with him--he needs the money. Fast. Bad.

He goes to his little rented room and starts pounding out ideas. The money the star is dangling is enormous. He decides to drive back to the manse with his ideas. And it is there he finds the star dead on the floor of his study. A lot of people in Hollywood want to see our man suffer the consequences of slapping his wife the night of her death. The cops are all too eager to nail him for the murder.

What follows is a chase through the Hollywood of the Fifties. Sanderson had obviously been there and his comments on the sociology of the time are sharp as the dagger that killed the star.

While the plot gets away from Sanderson a few times and there are moments that are too gaudy for their own good, he constantly writes sentences that are enviable as hell but never self-conscious or pretentious.

This isn't Sanderson's best but I sure did enjoy it.

3 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I've read four or five of his novels under his various names and never found one less the enjoyable.

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