“God was right about Adam: for a man to live alone is not good. I can’t spare a rib.”
Herman Wouk (yes, that Herman Wouk) has been trying to write a novel about Moses for fifty years. As he finally sits down to start, Hollywood comes hurtling into his life; an eccentric billionaire will bankroll a film about Moses if Wouk will approve the script by unknown ex-Jew Margolit Solovei. Margo’s desperation to land the job puts her back in contact with a high school sweetheart and through him, commences a sweet and much-needed confidance with a literary professor. Throw in a naive Australian sheep farmer and a mad English agent; yet somehow romance and creativity prevail over absurdity.
This is really a character study in the somewhat polarised and distorted film world. Margo is a fantastic creation – passionate about her work yet insecure, craving the approval of her father, mentor and idols, yet perfectly happy to throw multiple spanners into works. The novel is tightly cast; no one is extraneous and all contribute to both plot and humour. Possibly my favourite character is gentle-natured Perry Pines, accidentally thrown into the whirlwind of Hollywood, yet clinging stubbornly to the farmland of his youth (“Crooked Creek Farm”).
The epistolatory/”collection of evidence” style of writing is one which I’ve only come across a few times before – it worked very well in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and spectacularly in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, while I wasn’t a huge fan of A Visit from the Goon Squad. Suffice to say, the book’s got to be quirky before you can think about using this method. Anyhow, it works here – various voices are developed without that inconvenience of having all your characters in one place, or justifying lengthy monologues/stream-of-consciousness.
Similarly, the technique of the author writing himself into the text as a character is both bizarre and gives him an auto-biographical mouthpiece; his anxiety at running out of time is palpable, as is his deep devotion to his wife of 65 years. In a sense, this has aspects of an open love letter to BSW in the same way that The End of Your Life Book Club is an open eulogy. The humour is strong without being forced – I was safe to read this while having my hair cut (no laugh out loud moments) but plenty of little chortles.
I found the deep-running Jewishness at once bizarre and intriguing, isolating, yet with the footnotes, captivating. This is really a novel about being Jewish, as well as being in the film industry (or a reclusive author, or sheep farmer…). I suspect that Jewish readers might find it overly simplistic or even a little insultingly stereotypical, but I’m not Jewish so I can’t judge.
Now I have to read Marjorie Morningstar.