Wednesday, August 06, 2008

new ways to dream*

Nina Revoyr’s third novel is as different in subject matter as her previous two were from each other. So far she’s chronicled girl basketball players, civil unrest in Watts and now the silent film era: The Age of Dreaming is the story of Jun Nakayama, a Japanese American star of the silents who—when a new part comes his way for the first time in decades—is forced to reflect on the abrupt end of his career. The reasons are as scandalous as an unsolved murder and as subtle as the growing anti-Japanese sentiments he tried to brush off.

The through-line that draws me to Revoyr’s work again and again—besides her insider’s renderings of Los Angeles’ many dark and beautiful sides—is her depiction of characters who are reluctantly shaken out of their passivity. It’s easy enough to write about characters who are brave or even tragic, but it takes serious skill to write about polite, reserved people whose very nature defies the nature of plot.

Jun, despite being a ham, hates to ruffle feathers, and would like to believe that if he lost a job or two, it was because of negative publicity surrounding the murder of one of his directors, not because of a larger injustice in the world. Over the course of the novel, which flashes between the ‘20s and the ‘60s, he realizes that society doesn’t reward patience and compliance the way he’d hoped, but that he has more control of his own fate than he once thought. Imagine Norma Desmond narrating her own story—she might seem a little less crazy and a little more empowered.

Revoyr’s prose in this novel are like Jun himself: simple but elegant, contemplative and—at first glance—almost dry. But this is all part of a carefully layered character portrait, and the thoroughly juicy mystery at the novel’s center, coupled with descriptions of Hollywood in its giddy adolescence, keep the pages turning.

*Yes, that was a Sunset-Boulevard-the-musical reference. Peter will appreciate it even if no one else does.


Peter Varvel said...

GAWD, am I THAT obviously gay?! LOL
Yes, I do appreciate the reference, and I so need to read this book - "reluctantly shaken out of their passivity?" More lessons to be learned . . .
And congrats on getting that much closer to next year's publication with a peek at the new cover!

Cheryl said...

We musical theater geeks need to stick together is all I'm saying. :-)