Rating: *** (3/5)
Published: Mira, January 2016
Format: Trade Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
If I had to use one word to describe this novel, it would be Conflict. And not the good kind of conflict that drives a plot, but the bickering kind that gets tiresome.
Before Jean Harlow became a screen siren and household name, she was Harlean Carpenter McGraw, a Midwestern teenager who relocates to Hollywood with her new husband Chuck. Despite being in a town synonymous with creating stars, Chuck does not want his wife involved in show business. His vehement jealousy is fueled by alcohol and his drunken tirades cause Harlean nothing but embarrassment and heartbreak. Enter Harlean’s overbearing mother Jean, who never approved of Chuck anyway, and you have the ultimate standoff between a mother who is fulfilling her own failed ambitions through her daughter and a husband who can’t stand to see another man even glancing at his bombshell wife.
The momentum of the book finally picks up halfway through, once Harlean wises up and leaves Chuck and thus, her star begins to rise. I enjoyed the second half of the novel more because it gave a glimpse of the Hollywood scene and all that Harlean had to endure to get famous. Cameos from Laurel and Hardy, Howard Hughes, Clark Gable, and numerous others are what I was expecting all along. Just as her star is shining brightest and she’s leaving her handprints in cement, Harlean’s story ends, and that’s where I had the biggest problem.
The book concludes in 1933, a year after her second husband Paul Bern committed suicide. My goodness, if the author would have capitalized on that aspect of Harlean’s life, it would have made for a dramatic conclusion! Not to mention that she died only 4 years later at the tender age of 26! I only wish the story focused less on her volatile first marriage to an obnoxious drunk and divulged on the juicier latter-half of her career. I know, the author’s note stated that she wanted to portray the lesser known aspect of Harlean’s life, but it just wasn’t as captivating. It’s too bad; what could have been a great novel was a mediocre tribute to a woman who died tragically before her time.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.