Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Review: "I'll Take You There" by Wally Lamb

I'll Take You There Wally Lamb
Published: November 22, 2016
ISBN: 9780062656292
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Source: Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Hollywood's "Golden Age," Ghost Stories, Feminist Fiction

I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.

In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.

Against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic convergence of politics and pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the pressures and trials of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and feminist realities that all women, of every era, must face.

My Thoughts:
In reading terms, Wally Lamb is a friendly acquaintance.  I've read a few of his books (although not Wishin' and Hopin', which introduces Felix, the central character of this book), and found them pleasant enough.  I am not in any way an expert on his books, beyond the 2 or 3 that I've previously read.

However, based on those few books, I thought I had a relatively good handle on what kind of books Lamb writes...and then I read this one.  If I was given this book without knowing the author, I would never have guessed that Wally Lamb wrote it.  Here's the thing....this book is strange in a way that won't appeal to everyone.  However, it was strange in a way that appealed greatly to me.

This novel reminded me of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, except that it has nothing to do with Christmas and it isn't as personal.  Ebeneezer Scrooge's experience led him to discover things within himself and to face the mirror of his own being.  Felix, on the other hand, is selected for his ghostly excursion (yes, there are ghosts!) because he is "educable."  Instead of coming face to face with his own soul, Felix learns to see others in a more complete way--especially his sister, Frances, and his daughter, Aliza.

You see, here is the most interesting thing about this book.  This story of a middle-aged white guy who likes movies really has very little to do with that middle-aged white guy who likes movies.  Instead, this is a surprisingly feminist novel.  Now, I know that some may bristle a bit at the idea of a male character essentially telling a feminist story.  However, I found it quite effective.  There are a countless number of books about a woman's experience with feminism, but this is the first that I've read that explores a man's experience.

Lamb accomplishes this deftly.  Felix does not have a huge transformation where he turns from being a misogynist into being a feminist.  Honestly, Felix is pretty much the same guy at the end as he is at the beginning, just with a bit more empathy and understanding.  However, the reader sees the 360 degree picture here through Felix's conversations with his ghostly companions, observing his own life, and stepping back into time himself.

As I said, this is not a book for everyone.  I can see how some might not be able to buy the premise. However, if you are able to dig right in, you will not be disappointed.

About the Author:
Wally Lamb is the author of four previous novels, including the New York Times and national bestseller The Hour I First Believed and Wishin' and Hopin', a bestselling novella. His first two works of fiction, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, were both number-one New York Times bestsellers and Oprah's Book Club selections. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Christine. The Lambs are the parents of three sons.

Find out more about Wally at his website, and connect with him on Facebook.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

If you would like to read more about this book, please visit the TLC Book Tours page for a listing of the other blogs participating in this tour.

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