Sunday, May 23, 2010
Read to Page 56 of Umbrella Steps
tonight and enjoyed it immensely.
I love novels which capture the true looseness of the seventies to perfection and this book does that.
It's clear that Lolita is the inspiration for this young author--she was twenty-five and a summer beauty when Random House published this in 1972.
Julie Goldsmith Gilbert is the grand-niece of Edna Ferber.
Here's her very short but respectable Wiki entry (under "Julie Gilbert"):
"Julie Gilbert was born on July 21, 1949 in New York. Her father, Henry Goldsmith was a publisher and her mother, Janet, was an actress. She attended Boston University and has worked as a professional actress, writer and teacher. She has written biographies, novels and plays including Umbrella Steps, which became a film, and Ferber: The Biography of Edna Ferber and Her Circle, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Opposite Attraction: The Lives of Erich Maria Remarque and Paulette Goddard."
I suppose one could think of Umbrella Steps as Lolita x 2.
But the voice of the young narrator is convincing and the social mores of upper middle class New York City (circa 1972) are skewered and catalogued well on butterfly pins, analyzed by a reliable and somewhat impartial eye.
I love the way the novel positions itself--impossibly--with regard to genre. Sometimes it reads like the darkest Judy Blume novel (the one all of her publishers would reject). Other times the young author is (unapologetically) pure Saul Bellow.
But then comparisons to either of those authors would probably be seen as derogratory by most readers. Probably she is really closer to Salinger here, to Salinger's endless fascination with the jaded young. So far, the book is every bit as convincing as Salinger tackling just that, in say Franny & Zooey.
Yes, it's a "You seduced my father, now I'm-a-gonna seduce your'n" novel, but surprisingly the novel isn't anywhere near as exploitive as that premise or the delicious cover photograph would lead one to believe (I will definitely post that shortly, when I get a digicam pic)*.
It's just totally convincing on the seventies, with everything from the crackpot psychoanalysis to the early budding sexuality of teens to the manifold proofs that the rich are different, regardless of what period we are examining.
Plus, it has "rampant Jewishness" and Jewish salaciousness. I love that about it.
I dig a young kurveh with a brain.
I'm joking. The protag is not a kurveh.
So far it's sort of a missed classic. But I think it would have had to have been noticed in the seventies by younger readers. They're somewhere else now, today's young readers. The psychoanalysis rituals of the seventies would be as foreign to today's kids as the I-Pad would be to these flower children of privilege yentzing their friends' daddies in Umbrella Steps.
If you like Augusten Burroughs' strange evocations of the seventies' weirdness (I do!), then you'll probably love this book.
I'll review it in full when I finish it in a few days.
P.S. This was made into a movie, but the movie seems to be as obscure as the novel. When I was searching for that online, I found a copy of the script for sale ($75.00). It was from the estate of Rock Hudson. Imagine.
*Can you believe--not a single photograph or reproduction of the delicious cover anywhere in Google Image Search! A Random House book from 1972. It's not the contents of the Ark!