cover image From Dust to Stardust

From Dust to Stardust

Kathleen Rooney. Lake Union, $28.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-66251-058-8

Rooney (Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk) draws on the story of silent film star Colleen Moore for an enchanting if meandering tale of old Hollywood. In 1916, fourteen-year-old Eileen Sullivan leaves her hometown of Tampa, Fla., for Los Angeles, determined to make it as an actor. She clinches a string of successful roles, thanks in part to Jack Flanagan, an alcoholic and abusive PR man who she marries in 1923. She also befriends such luminaries as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Clara Bow. In addition to acting, Eileen has a passion for stories about fairies, and during the Great Depression, she hits the road to exhibit her Fairy Castle, a dollhouse-like sculpture full of miniature fairies. Eileen narrates in 1968, having been asked to tell her life story for a Chicago museum, which will display the castle. She recounts her divorce from Jack followed by two more marriages, and her pivot in the 1940s to a second career as a financial adviser. There’s not much of a plot, but Rooney sketches her quirky characters in sparkling prose (“Bloated and red, [Jack] stunk of whiskey and sat in an easy chair clutching the morning paper; the headline was about Churchill. It looked like an establishing shot in a melodrama”). Devotees of golden age Hollywood should check this out. (Sept.)