Strauss’s ambitious metafictional latest (after the NBCC Award-winning memoir Half a Life) blends autobiography and family history in an investigation of celebrity, memory, and the legacy of ambition. The queen of the title is Lucille Ball, who, in 1949, is a shrewd businesswoman whose funny faces subvert her beauty and add to her character, and whose domestic life is simulated in I Love Lucy, but the book’s beating heart is Isidore Strauss, a Jewish builder, and, as the reader will eventually realize, the author’s grandfather. Isidore meets Ball at a Coney Island event hosted by Fred Trump, and Strauss uses this detail to spin a story of a secret affair that explains why Isidore’s marriage falls apart. The book is so clearly a labor of love that would be almost churlish to point out how labored it can feel, as when the narrator muses for two pages about Desi Arnaz’s use and abuse of power, or when Isidore wallows in guilt for just one kiss. Strauss is at his best when harnessing Lucy’s vital comedic and sexual force, but it’s not sustained across the entire narrative. Still, the questions of how family legends both obscure and reveal the truth will keep readers turning the pages. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 05/20/2020 Release date: 08/18/2020 Genre: Fiction
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