Wednesday, January 29, 2020

My review of Bright Star, by David C. Smith

Reviewed in the United States on January 29, 2020
I received this book as a Christmas present and dived into it soon after. The story begins in the present day when a screenwriter sets out on a quest to uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance, in 1920, of (fictional) silent film star, Catherine Farr, his great aunt. We then slip back to Chicago, 1912, "at the beginning of things, where the magic is," to quote from the book, when Farr is discovered and begins her ascent to stardom. The author's knowledge of the silent film era is masterful, and he tells us how "picture plays," as they were called back then, were produced. He even gives us a number of scenarios of 1, 2 and 3 reelers that would have made excellent silent films. Farr is a very strong and modern lead character - a talented and creative woman, and what this novel does is show us how so many women were prominent, powerful players in the film industry back then, before Hollywood became the center of the cinematic world. While sections of the novel alternate between the past and the present day, with the screenwriter trying to puzzle out what really happened to his great aunt, the bulk of the story, the main story, stays rooted in a firmly and expertly realized past. The characters are fully realized, and the story is not just a history of silent cinema, and a mystery surrounding Catherine Farr, it's also a heartfelt tale of love, the filmmaking business, friendship, and family drama. There are poignant moments exploring the human heart, and dealing with all the loss and grief, pain and joy that go hand in hand with living and creating. This book is superbly written, well-told and nicely paced. There's great dialogue, a real sense of time and place, and a gentle sense of humor deriving not from situations, but from the characters themselves. Finely crafted and plotted, well researched and thought out, Bright Star reads more like a biography than fiction. Catherine Farr is one special character, someone to fall in love with, as I did. And the mystery of what happened to her in 1920? Well, you'll have to read the novel for yourselves in order to find out. This is truly an excellent novel that would make a great film. Truly a tour de force. Most highly recommended.

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