Sunday, 2 February 2014
Review: Melting the Snow on Hester Street by Daisy Waugh
The obvious reference in the tagline to F.Scott Fitzgerald, and the glamourous setting of old Hollywood is what drew me to this novel; I have a current obsession with the 1920's and it seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Eleanor and Max Beecham are married Hollywood actors, fast becoming veterans of the business. Wall Street is teetering on the edge, as are their careers and their marriage.
Upon starting the novel I was disappointed, it took me a long time to get into it, and even then I would set it aside in favour of other books. So there it sat only a quarter read for weeks until I decided to dedicate a day to finishing it. I have to say that I'm glad I gave it another chance! From Chapter 12 we gradually begin to learn more of Max and Eleanor's past, and the more I learnt, the more I began to empathise with them. Matz, a socialist, and his girlfriend Elena who works on the sewing machines at Triangle Shirtwaist Company are a world away from the Hollywood icons that they have become, with their empty house and their emotionally empty lives.
The section detailing the fire in the Triangle factory provided a stark and grotesque contrast to the excesses of Hollywood; indeed the novel reads almost like two completely different stories intertwined, but that's the point. Matz and Elena have transformed their lives beyond recognition, yet it is debatable as to whether this change was for the better; their life before was primitive, squalid even, but at least it was real. Hollywood glamour is as fake as it's films, and to save their marriage Max and Eleanor must return to their past.
One thing I would advise with this novel is to completely disregard the blurb; the 'legendary house party' it advertises takes up little more than the final chapter of the book and it fails to mention what is perhaps the most interesting part of the book - the back story of Elena and Matz and how they worked their way up from the gutter to Hollywood stardom.
The English graduate in me is compelled to point out the many typos that ruined parts of the novel to the point where I am unsure if the final sentence of the novel is a subtle plot twist (you'd have to be paying attention to spot it) or a glaring error that should have been picked up on in editing. Another reviewer has also pointed out that the newspaper clipping included at the end of the novel has been misdated by eighteen years (the fire was in 1911 not 1929), and it is the details like this that should have been checked prior to publishing.
3/5 stars: Unexpectedly poignant, fans of the Jazz Age will not be disappointed by this tale of Hollywood's golden couple as they delve into the past, peeling away the layers of pretence and learning to love each other again.