Book Review for “I, Gloria Graham” by Sky Gilbert.
Summary: “A professor of English literature writes the autobiography of his fantasy alter-ego, wanton movie star Gloria Grahame, while his own sexual desires go frustrated. Denton Moulton — a shy, effeminate male professor — lives inside his head, and inside his head he is really a long-dead movie star — the glamorous Gloria Grahame, from the golden age of Hollywood. Professor Moulton is desperate to reveal Gloria’s shocking secret before he dies. Does he have the right to tell this woman’s story? Who, in fact, has the right to tell any story at all?”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Historical, Contemporary, USA – Los Angeles; Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, Women, Fictional Memoir, LGBTQIA+, Romance, Dual Timelines.
The rest of the blurb for this book says: “This scandalous, satirical novel of taboo desires and repression alternates between Gloria’s imagined life with her film-director husband (Nicholas Ray, director of Rebel Without a Cause) and Denton’s increasingly frustrated real-life attempts to produce his own work of art, an all-male drag production of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. It takes us from high-strung film sets to dark bars to the puritanical offices of government arts granting agencies, where Denton runs up against the sternest warnings that he may not, in fact, imagine himself as someone else, even in art.” Well, how is that for an original dual timeline? In fact, it only occurred to me that this was a dual timeline novel after I started writing this review! For this, one really needs to give kudos to Gilbert, because I as you probably know already, these can be somewhat tedious, if there’s no good reason for more than one timeline.
However – and this is actually a pretty big however – I did have one problem with the two timelines. That being (and please note, this could be because I read the ARC and not the final version) that the switching between the fictional memoir of Moulton, and his own fictional memoir of Grahame had almost no pauses. Yes, there were a few times where I saw a line of five stars between Moulton as Moulton, and Moulton as Grahame, but these were few and far between. I have to say that this frustrated me in the reading, because it wasn’t always obvious when our narrator was himself, and when he was speaking as Gloria. There were actually times when I had to go back a paragraph or two to figure out which was which. Now, the up side of this is that it seems very obvious that Gilbert had Moulton’s voice down pat. Still, that didn’t assuage my difficulties I had with the flow of this novel. (I’m afraid that this might make other readers quit this book before finishing it, so I’m hoping that those stars appear more often in the final version).
I also have to say that as I neared the end of this book there were a few scenes of sexual encounters that, although not overtly graphic, did have one particular element that bothered me. I won’t elaborate further, but I believe that there are some sexual acts (both heterosexual and homosexual ones) that can be disturbing for readers like myself. Of course, I’m sure that people who get turned on by these things behind closed doors won’t find these scenes to be at all problematic, but I’m afraid this one had me trying to skim past those bits quickly. Despite this, I have to say that this is not a very long novel, and since this only happens twice in the book, both near the end, if you get invested here, you’ll probably be able to ignore this problem.
Other than this, it also took me a while – or perhaps I should say that it took Gilbert a while – to get around to why he was telling these two stories. I mean, each of these is actually interesting in and of themselves, but the connections between them don’t become evident until about ¾ of the way into the book. So, while I thought the story of Moulton and his desires for young men, together with this play he’s trying to produce could have been a whole book on its own (albeit a short one). Also, the story of Grahame talking about her very difficult marriage to her first husband, and her relationship with his son Tony could also have filled up a separate novella. Mixing them together needed a purpose, and it will take some time to see that bit.
I think that what Gilbert is trying to say here is that desires, wants, and needs all come at a certain cost – sometimes even scandalous ones. Now don’t get me wrong, there was no time in my reading this book that I felt like I wanted to stop reading it, mostly because I feel that Gilbert loved both Grahame and Moulton very much. As far as character studies go, I think Gilbert did a truly marvelous job here with both Grahame and Moulton, even when I wished that neither of them was so self-effacing. So, despite some of the more difficult aspects of this book, I think I’ll still recommend it, but the highest I can honestly rate it is three and a half stars out of five.
Dundurn Press released “I, Gloria Grahame” by Sky Gilbert on October 4, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.