Stars Over Sunset Boulevard
Susan Meissner (Adult Historical Fiction)
Unlike most women, Violet Mayfield didn’t move to Hollywood in hopes of being a star. At twenty-two, she made the trip from her home in Alabama because of the promise of a steady job in a studio secretarial pool. She also came to escape the expectations of her mother and father, as well as the sad memories of a life that would never be. Conversely, thirty-year old Audrey Duvall was looking for stardom. It was 1938 and the biggest news around Hollywood was the filming of Selznick International Studios’ blockbuster production of Gone with the Wind. Audrey, who was once on the cusp of stardom, is looking for her breakout chance. At the moment, all she’s looking for is a suitable roommate and this young woman from Alabama seems to be the right fit. Violet and Audrey’s friendship is set against the backdrop of the Golden Age of Hollywood—where dreams are made, stars are born, and all the world’s a stage. But as each of these two very different women search for their own sense of fulfillment and happiness, their friendship is constantly put at odds. Can their relationship endure their individual pursuits of happily ever after?
Historical fiction is my favorite genre and so I really enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look into the making of Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War-era epic Gone with the Wind. Meissner goes into detail about the film’s myriad obstacles and noteworthy events: the firing of the production’s first director, George Cukor; the clever solution of acquiring additional “extras” for the Confederate Wounded scene; the preparation for the burning of Atlanta sequence; and the excitement when the identity of the film’s leading lady was finally revealed. It’s a wonderful look into cinematic history and I thoroughly reveled in these references.
One of the major plot lines of the book was the tie-in between the past and the present through a prop from the Gone with the Wind movie: Scarlett’s over-the-top green velvet hat that went with her infamous drapery dress. Although an interesting premise, I felt that this connection didn’t really add anything to the storyline. For all the build-up behind this famed costume piece, I eventually viewed the emerald chapeau as more of a red herring. Admittedly, Meissner did use this device to directly draw a comparison between Scarlett O’Hara and Violet Mayfield who both are Southern women willing to do anything to anyone as long as it benefits their own self-interests. However, this correlation did not translate to an immediate “check” in the win box for me. The very reasons I didn’t like Gone with the Wind are the exact same reasons that I wasn’t able to fully connect with Stars Over Sunset Boulevard: a story based around a female protagonist that’s selfish, petty, ungrateful, and petulant and constantly plays the woe-is-me-card in order to rationalize her self-serving choices. By doing so, she manages to hurt those closest to her while depriving them the dignity and decency of making their own informed decisions. While Scarlett seems to pay the ultimate price for her arrogance, Violet seems to have gotten off pretty much scot free. To that, all I have to say is, “Fiddle-dee-dee”.
*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com
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