Glen David Gold, Sunnyside

On the whole I liked Glen David Gold’s Sunnyside, even if I’m not quite sure what to make of it. It shares only superficial similarities with Gold’s debut novel, Carter Beats the Devil: like the earlier book it seamlessly blends historical and invented characters in a story fully of derring-do, heartbreak, and coincidence-fueled plot twists. But Sunnyside is a a much more ambitious and complex work.

It opens with a sequence that seems like a textbook example of magical realism; in his afterward Gold claims it has a historical basis, although, perhaps suspiciously, the only references I can find on the Internet to the event are in descriptions of Sunnyside itself. The event binds the destinies of aspiring actor Lee Duncan and Hugo Black to Charlie Chaplin’s career in some obscure fashion.

Roughly half the novel follows Chaplin from late 1916 through mid-1919, when he was creating films for Mutual with an unprecedented degree of creative control. He pals around with Douglas Fairbanks, squabbles with Mary Pickford, raises money for the war effort, and struggles toward a creative breakthrough that seems always just beyond his grasp. The rest of the book follows Duncan (a real figure) and Black (an invented one, seemingly unrelated to the Supreme Court justice who shares his name) through the war years.

Sunnyside entertained me in the main, but the logic that makes these three stories combine into a cohesive novel eluded me. I found the resolution of Hugo Black’s story particularly problematic; it departs significantly from the level of naturalism in the novel elsewhere to evoke mythic and religious tropes like the temptation of Christ and encounters with faerie. Charlie Chaplin meanwhile is throwing seemingly random plot elements into his film Sunnyside in a desperate attempt to make it all stick together. I found myself tempted to think that Gold is similarly striving for some apotheosis, shifting the tone and narrative structure of Sunnyside the novel in an attempt to make its whole somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

I don’t think it completely succeeds, but it’s brave and interesting in its attempt. I loved Carter Beats the Devil for what it was, but most of what I loved was the intricate construction of its plot, and to a lesser degree the emotional resonances Gold achieved. But Carter Beats the Devil didn’t operate on any particularly deep thematic level.

Sunnyside is a completely different beast, and it mostly leaves me impatient to see what Gold tries next.

needs more demons? no.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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