The Great Pretenders

Laura Kalpakian. Berkley, $16 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-101-99018-6
After a lengthy hiatus, Kalpakian (American Cookery, 2007) returns with a chick-lit homage to 1950s Hollywood. The opening, a self-absorbed monologue by 20-something Roxanne Granville at her grandmother’s graveside, sets a lugubrious pace for the copious, name-dropping backstory. Her movie mogul grandparents stood as parents to her, but adult Roxanne is estranged from her McCarthyite grandfather, Leon, whose serial infidelities have culminated in infatuation with a blonde starlet. Roxanne demands that he dump the starlet; he refuses. So she embarks on a pattern of pretending to take self-sufficient steps while still relying heavily on her connections and family. Living in Leon’s Malibu beach house, she boldly goes to work as an agent in the movie business. The venture isn’t initially successful—but she inherited a pile of cash from her grandmother, so life rolls on amid champagne and diamonds. She dares to hang out in mixed-race spaces—but she and the other white characters evince plenty of period-accurate casual racism, going beyond “Negro” and “colored” to toss around the occasional outright slur. Eventually, Roxanne enters a risky, albeit warmhearted business scam, and also falls for Terrence Dexter, a black journalist. She begins to balance her whims with passions and ethical commitments, sort of. But too many hot-button issues and too little empathy for less rich, less beautiful, less white humanity make this a superficial and often cringe-worthy exercise that comes across as an unironic travelogue of pampered white obliviousness. Agent: Pamela Malpas, Jennifer Lyons Literary. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/10/2019
Release date: 04/16/2019
Genre: Fiction
Library Binding - 978-1-4328-6684-6
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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