21 October 2009
Though on a much smaller scale, in this novel Barbara Washburn gives us a simplified version of The House of the Spirits (Isabel Allende), set in present-day America, the Golden Age of Hollywood (1930s and 40s) and the spirit world that connects them. This fine novel calls upon us to open up to spirits not of this world, spirits interacting with very real women of this world.
Here we have interwoven narratives: a remarkably personal view of Carole Lombard -- one of the foremost stars of the depression era screwball comedy -- during her affair with and marriage to Clark Gable. At intervals comes the story of a fictional modern-day granddaughter of Lombard (Cass) and her almost-partner Cameron.
I must admit, the modern-day relationship between college professors Cass and Cameron are my favorite part of the book. While I liked the firsthand stories of Lombard, set in her Golden Age of Hollywood world, Ms. Lombard doesn't come to life the way Cass and Cameron do. Perhaps it's a generational bias of mine -- the characters of Cass and Cameron are my contemporaries, very easy for me as a reader to identify with. These modern parts of the book look very much like real life to me, flesh and blood women facing the challenges of life.
Yet I also like stories that challenge skeptical views of the spirit world. And here, as with Isabel Allende's novel noted above, I found myself wanting to believe in the supernatural elements of the story. This is a strength of the novel for me. I'm one of those spirit world skeptics, but not here. The intimacy of the the portraits of Lombard and Gable are startling; "how could Ms. Washburn know that?" I kept asking myself. The details ring very true. And the Hollywood insider information on their contemporaries strike me as have come from a very accurate source.
With Chasing Carole, Barbara Washburn provides us provides a novel at once fearless in its frankness yet tender and loving at its core.