Sunnyside Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 5 2009
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“Unflaggingly entertaining . . . Sunnyside flaunts a dizzying ambition. Thematically it’s no less modest . . . Gold is a prodigally gifted storyteller.”
“Brilliant . . . Sunnyside offers a wealth of wit and pathos and insight, and who better to guide us through this transformational moment in history than the Little Tramp? . . . Gold’s dexterous voice can swing from the exuberant melodrama of silent film to the terror of doomed soldiers to the quiet despair of the world’s most beloved man . . . There are so many dazzling episodes–in such a wide variety of settings in so many different styles and tones–that I began to think there was nothing Gold couldn’t do . . . Most important, he has figured out how to make Chaplin strut and feint and dance in print . . . Gold captures [Chaplin] in scenes of rich psychological acuity.”
“Sunnyside is a rich concoction of a novel, a melange of historical fact, biographical speculation and outright fantasy . . . Gold is a wizard at making things up and mixing them in with things not made up . . . reinforcing the comparison to writers such as E.L. Doctorow that his first novel elicited . . . Sunnyside pops and crackles with cleverness . . . Undeniably entertaining.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“A breathless stupendous novel that recreates both a young brash America on the verge of becoming itself, and Chaplin, one of its most bewitching quixotic citizens. From lighthouse to Hollywood to starlets to war to stardom to madness to genius Gold’s startling narrative carries us across the world and back. Gold proves himself yet again to be the hungriest craftiest funniest and most humane novelist we have.”
“Glen David Gold’s Doctorow-esque Sunnyside brings young America to vivid life as he weaves together European battlefields and the backlots of Hollywood . . . Gold is a masterful, even heart-stopping storyteller.”
“Witty and often as funny as it is insightful . . . Ultimately, Sunnyside plays out much like Chaplin’s career, initially funny but moving on to something that is deeper, that plumbs the human condition without necessarily providing definitive answers . . . Grandly imagined.”
“Carter Beats the Devil [is] a hard act to follow. But Gold, fascinated by showmanship and illusion, celebrity and notoriety, had an equally alluring subject up his sleeve . . . The cascade of historic details Gold generates is breathtaking, but it is his electrifying characters, wildly inventive action replete with comedic mishaps and witty dialogue, and trenchant insights into the absurdity of war and the mythic dimension of movies that gather force and velocity to make this such a hilarious, brilliant, and transporting novel . . . Gold [is a] masterful storyteller.”
“A big, splashy novel . . . An ambitious, very well-written book full of memorable moments, not least of them starring Rin Tin Tin. Historical but not didactic, in the manner of the master of the genre, E.L. Doctorow, and more completely realized than Gold’s debut.”
“An elegant blend of reality and fiction, war drama and Hollywood glamour . . . The result is a dramatic narrative of chance and coincidence, and also a serious reconstruction of an evolving social landscape . . . Entirely satisfying: to borrow an idea from Chaplin’s great personal-artistic quest in the book, it’s a work as good as Gold.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred)
“A fantastic farrago of a novel . . . Gold has written another joyous comic novel that blends fact and fiction to the point where you won’ t really care what’s true and what’s not.”
–David Keymer, Library Journal (starred)
About the Author
Glen David Gold’s first novel, Carter Beats the Devil, has been translated into fourteen languages. His short stories and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s, Playboy, and The New York Times Magazine. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Alice Sebold.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
I'm always going on about how some writers have a distinct voice, others do not. Some have something to say, others do not. Mr. Gold most assuredly does have both of these qualities. As well as a wonderful command of the language, a love of all it can do in moving someone with a tale, a wry wit, a light touch, a thorough hand...
It's just about everything you could ask for in a 'big read' (500+ pages).
And less, unfortunately. Because as engrossing a read as it was, it fell flat for me on several fronts. First and foremost, ironically, the Chaplin stuff; probably the least compelling of all the threads. Granted, I've never understood the unquestionable fascination with him, either as a celebrity or as a performer. But putting aside any biases, I felt the portions of the book just didn't capture my imagination...and he came off as a prat. (Admittedly, I have a low tolerance for prats.) As well, at least one other thread could have done with some judicious editing, or at the very least, a better focus. (I'm mostly referring to the Russian element.) Because Gold's scope was so broad, because he had so many entertaining balls in the air, it's understandable that some missteps were taken. Not to worry; they don't diminish the overall effects hardly at all.
This is a novel to relish, a true 'reader's read', one I'd highly recommend to anyone wanting to get lost in a great tale.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Gold's first novel was the wonderful Carter Beats the Devil, a book that made me want to see what'd he do next. It took years for Sunnyside to appear, and it wasn't really worth the wait. The title refers to a movie by Charlie Chaplin that was being made during the bulk of the story. Chaplin, in fact, is the central character of the book, though I'd be hard pressed to call him the main character; he only appears in around a third of the book and much of the rest of the time, the story has little to do with him.
In fact, it's unclear what Sunnyside is supposed to be about. It seems to be several very loosely connected stories (often tied together only tangentially to Chaplin), none of which are all that interesting. Probably the best plot line in the book follows Lee Duncan who is forced into fighting in World War I and winds up saving a couple puppies from death. In another storyline, Private Hugo Black (apparently no relation to the prominent Supreme Court justice of the mid-Twentieth Century) gets tangled up with the American attempt to squash the Bolsheviks in Russia. Chaplin, meanwhile, tries to make movies, romance women, bolster the war effort and fight the studios.
In other words, there is a lot of activity going on, but it really doesn't add up to much. The plot - what there is of it - is muddled. Unlike Carter Beats the Devil, almost all the characters seem remote (except maybe Lee), so it's hard to really identify with them. Only in his description of the story setting - in particular, WWI-era Hollywood - does Gold do okay. On a technical level, Gold writes well, but Sunnyside is like a long hike: you may start out energetic and enjoying it, but in the end, you're trudging along, just waiting for it to all be over.
And then it hit me. Throughout the book, Chaplin is constantly at a loss for what to put in his movie, what story to tell, and how to bring it together, and is running behind his deadline. Finally, he is told not to worry about it. If it doesn't fit together, the audience will just assume they aren't clever enough to figure it out, since he's Chaplin after all. Whether through irony or intention, that is Sunnyside, it's a Chaplin film that never fits together. I'll give Gold the benefit of the doubt here, and assume he did it on purpose, if so its clever, but not even close to being worth the length it takes to read this one.
Gold gives us one story of handsome Leland Wheeler, the son of a woman lighthouse officer and a Wild West scoundrel who dreams of Hollywood fame against his mother's wishes; a family of Russian Jewish grifters who dream of riches; Hugo Black, an intellectual who searches for glory but has the misfortune of being sent to Siberia as part of the Allies ill conceived plan to undermine the new Bolshevik regime, and, of course, Charlie Chaplin. One hardly knows what to say about the Chaplin story, as it engages so many other varied plots, sub-plots and characters (and so many characters! Doug Fairbanks, Goldwyn, McAdoo, Zukor, Mary Pickford, Rin tin tin , etc, etc, etc) as Gold attempts to present and critique Hollywood's formation.
I cannot sufficiently praise either Gold's prose or his research. Here is historical fiction presented by a master, who weaves a spectacular tapestry of facts, fiction, and opinion creating a whole that runs through with pathos and humor. His sentences sing and his observations often give a reader pause. So what is one to make of Sunnyside's strange disassociated structure? From the novel's outset Gold makes very clear that he sees in this period the birth of modern mass culture, with Chaplin filling the essential role of that culture's celebrity. Perhaps that is why he organized the novel in this way, to demonstrate how disjointed society has become and reflect the impact of celebrity on its members.
One cannot know for sure what this author intended, and at times one may become frustrated by the novel's seemingly obtuse structure. One thing is certain, in the hands of a lesser writer, the attempt would have sunk into a disastrous morass and it is a testament to Gold's tremendous talent that he can keep this work afloat and his reader engaged. One may puzzle over Gold's intent, but Sunnyside offers no room to doubt his gifts.
By any standard, Sunnyside is an unconventional piece of story telling and I am reticent to attach the word novel to a work so unusually structured. Many readers will find the work to not be their cup of tea and will wonder whether they should dive into its 500+ pages. I suspect even that those who enjoy it will find that it more than once leaves them scratching their heads. One thing is certain, Gold here undertakes something both unusual and memorable and I for one took considerable satisfaction in the trip.
-REVIEW- (for those who wish to skip ^ )
I was excited for this book, though I have never heard of the author nor his other books, because of Chaplin on the cover. Let me warn those who did the same sort of judgement as me and tell you that Chaplin appears in the book but very lightly so that he could be said to not be a central character. Chaplin is woven in between various plots that amass around the globe from Russia to the U.S. during the war taut years of the early twentieth century. It is a fairly sizable book at 550+ Big pages, so the first question I think you should ask yourself is, "Do more pages equal vivacious detail and imagery, or is the author wordy?" From most of the reviews above me you would think that the lengthy pages are just fluff that amounts to nothing in particular, but I want to contrast those views and tell you that this book is filled with pages of quality story structure.
The plots of this book are many in that it is not necessarily a linear type book where the characters interact and change as they go. This is a book of plot weaving that needs to be done by a seasoned reader that doesn't look forward to the end page in order to gauge how many pages they have to go. Rather, a reader whom is able to get lost in a vast story and is capable of piecing together the meticulously scattered plots in order to reach an end which is coalesced to a much narrower picture of a journey of the character-- this is the reader whom this book is for.
Revealing the bits and pieces of the story that need to be found by the reader, as if in surprise, is something I hope, for your sake, will not happen. I should like to lean you towards reading this book with all of your wits about you as you prepare to take on the journey that this author has written for you to experience. You will feel transported back in the era, with vivid imagery, of jazz, jets, uniforms and alcohol. It will be a party, a plane ride and a glass of champagne, all hosted by Chaplin himself.