Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Cheat and Charmer" by Elizabeth Frank

Cheat and Charmer
by Elizabeth Frank
543 pages

Short Version: Two young sisters were once a part of the Communist party, but now it is coming back to affect their lives as Dinah is pressured to testify in order to keep her life the way it is- as the wife of a famous screenwriter and director. Cheat and Charmer follows the lives of Dinah and her family as she testifies and the consequences after.

Why I Read It: I picked this up in a used bookstore and the time period is was hooked me. Anything from the 1920s to 1950s is always so interesting.

The Book: From Goodreads
Twenty-five years in the making, a first novel that has already been compared to The Sun Also Rises and The Last Tycoon, Cheat and Charmer is certain to be one of the most admired literary debuts of the season. Written by Pulitzer Prize—winning biographer Elizabeth Frank, Cheat and Charmer is a masterful and richly detailed work of fiction–a Tolstoyan novel of marriage, sisterhood, art, politics, compromise, and betrayal set in Hollywood, New York, Paris, and London of the 1950s.
Dinah Lasker grew up in the shadow of her sister, Veevi, a stunning beauty and emerging star who enchanted both the Hollywood set and its imported New York literati. But Veevi’s home was also a hotbed of political activity, owing to her marriage to Stefan Ventura, a Bulgarian filmmaker and high-profile Communist. At the end of the 1930s, when things go badly for him in Hollywood, Ventura and Veevi flee to Paris and into the lengthening shadows of Hitler and fascism.
Cut to 1951, when Dinah is subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, which threatens to ruin her husband, Jake, and derail his successful career as a Hollywood writer, producer, and director unless she cooperates. Can Dinah live with herself if she names Veevi–whom she both loves and loathes–in order to save her husband and preserve her idyllic married life? The choices Dinah makes set in motion an unforgettable chain of events. Like Anna Karenina, Dinah must face the consequences of her choices and her needs.
Written with elegance and style, Cheat and Charmer grippingly dramatizes the interior lives of Dinah, Veevi, Jake, and their social circle. Spanning decades and following complex characters on their impassioned pursuits through America and Europe, this is a novel of grand scope, about love and deception, idealism and accommodation, the lies we live, and the truths we cannot avoid.

My Thoughts: I have to say this book is not what I expected, but I am not really sure what I expected. I grabbed this book at a used book store because the cover and brief description on the back caught my eye. It mentioned New York, Paris and London in the 1950s- sounded good to me. I also knew it was about sisters, which I often enjoy reading about since I grew up with a brother. After finishing this book I have to say it was a bit boring.
Dinah is pressured to testify about being a Communist by her husband so she does not ruin his career as a screenwriter. I thought this would be something exciting and create some action in the plot. Instead the rest of the book just went on about their lives after testifying, which really was not much different. Of course it did affect some things in Dinah's life, like her sister who she named as a Communist. Weirdly enough this brought Veevi back into Dinah's life. The whole book just seemed to be a daily account of the Lasker's lives. And nothing exciting really happened to them.
I really disliked some of the characters. Number one was Jake Lasker, Dinah's husband. He cheated on his wife all the time and thought he was justifying it to himself because he always went back to his wife. Scumbag. Poor Dinah never even suspected because she loved her husband and assumed he felt crazy about her the way she was crazy about him. Dinah and Veevi where both well written characters but they drove me nuts sometimes. Dinah needed to stand up for herself more, especially against her sister who always had everything. Veevi needed to realize the world did not revolve around her. Elizabeth Frank did a very good job creating the sister's relationship.
The end of the book was probably the best part. Finally there was some action that created feelings for me. I was nervous and sad and happy. I was just disappointed it took 400 pages to get to these feelings. I won't go into detail because I do not want to spoil anything.
If you enjoy reading about the daily doings of a somewhat dysfunctional family and the backdrop of the 1950s in Hollywood you may enjoy this book. It just wasn't right for me.

2/5 Stars

#7 in 2012 Mount TBR Challenge
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