Hollywood Sinners is filled with quirky characters, strangely convincing scenes, and a curiously evocative depiction of 1930s Hollywood. Sister Agatha of the Streetcar haunted this reader long after the story was done, but Hollywood Sinners isn’t her story. It’s the tale of Karin, who wants to be more than a sheepfarmer’s daughter, and of the mishaps and missteps she makes along her way. And, while our mishaps and missteps may be entirely different, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for a character who, like all the rest of us, wants to become more.
There’s a delightful craft in the writing of this novel, with hardly a spare scene or sentence anywhere. And there’s a deeply absorbing feeling of fable and sense of the surreal that seems rather appropriate for a tale set in Tinsel town. Not that the author’s depiction is unreal. But it had never occurred to me before reading to wonder what Hollywood would be like, just before World War II, or where the sympathies of Americans would lie, not just about the war. I absorbed a feeling for a strange foreign place as I read, and found myself looking through a new foreign lens at the present.
Karin’s mishaps had me laughing, even as I saw them coming. The sense of timing, as well as the sense of time, is very satisfying to the reader. And, though I couldn’t agree with Karin’s aims, I could delight in the resonance of her misfortunes. By the end of the novel I was simultaneously pleased and searching back through pages to see what I’d missed. I felt contentedly bemused, and could happily have read further, but the ending’s perfect, right where it is, and the novel’s a wonderful gem.
Disclosure: An earlier edition of this novel was the first book I read by this author.