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Cheat and Charmer: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Elizabeth Frank
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.95
Kindle Price: $11.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Twenty-five years in the making, this Hollywood novel by Pulitzer Prize–winner Frank (Louise Bogan: A Portrait) is a rich meditation on family, sex, responsibility and betrayal. Dinah Lasker, happily married with two children to successful Hollywood producer-writer-director Jake Lasker, finds her world upended when she is called to testify at the HUAC hearings of the Communist-baiting 1950s. To refuse would mean her husband will be blacklisted; to comply means she must "name" her sister, the always more glamorous Veevi, an unrepentant former Communist and actress living in Paris. Dinah's decision to testify takes place early in the novel and torments her throughout the decade or so that follows, but Frank gradually reveals that "fink" Dinah is really the only decent character in town. Former friends cut her socially; Jake philanders unrepentantly; and Veevi, who is forced to move in with Dinah in Hollywood, begins an affair with Jake. Frank adopts some of the stylistic conventions of mainstream 1950s fiction to mixed effect, but she does a stupendous job of allowing the reader inside each character's self-justifying world view while placing their actions in a larger context. Dinah, far from being a simple do-gooder, is a sympathetic and complex character, and her deep love for her downward-spiraling sister and her ladder-climbing husband is as heart-wrenching as her eventual bid for independence.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Set in postwar Hollywood, Elizabeth Frank's first novel evokes a lost world of orange blossoms, pressed linens, and Friday-night luaus at which liveried waiters serve pineapple chunks and rumaki. It is to lay claim to such comforts that Dinah Milligan, a former chorus girl, marries a director of popular cornball comedies, and to preserve his career and the good life to which they've grown accustomed that she testifies before the huac. After naming names—including that of her sister—Dinah endures the further trials of ostracism and guilt. This leads her to probe, with keen moral intelligence, the forces that have led to her predicament—a pattern of desires that span continents, oceans, and kidney-shaped pools, and which have entangled the people she loves for most of an American century.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Product Details

  • File Size: 1536 KB
  • Print Length: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (December 18, 2013)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003E8AIVG
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #525,849 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent Fiction November 21, 2004
By G. Cote
with deeply nuanced characters who are not espcially likeable. The thing I loved about this book is that there are no easy answers. All of these characters make choices that have long reaching results. If you believe that ethics are situational; that choices are neither morally good or bad (in and of themselves), this book will make you pause. The author does an outstanding job of showing the emotional consequences of seemingly simple choices. The history of LA in the 50s (I lived it), the blacklist and the movie business all ring true. This is one of the best books I have read this year. I literally read it in a 24 hour period and was sad to see it end.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun Hollywood trasher November 6, 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Jaqueline Susann has met her match! Reading books like this is one of those guilty pleasures that I have to confess to. And Frank knows her stuff... I felt that this was probably a roman a clef, but even without the clef in hand, the book is hugely entertaining (though it does bog down just a bit by the time you get to page 400). And the characters are, for the most part, so thoroughly unsympathetic that you can read about the disasters that befall them with perfect equanimity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing December 2, 2005
This is possibly the best book I've read in many years. It carried me into the lives of Dinah and Jake to the point that I felt like I was living with them and feeling their laughter and pain. Elizabeth Frank may well be one of the best writers of our time. Although it took place in the 50' it is truly a timeless work of art. Bravo and Encore!!!
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4.0 out of 5 stars characters take over an author October 8, 2007
After reading some glowing published reviews of this book, I got the idea that the story focuses on participants in the HUAC hearings of the 1950s. The first third or so of the book does just that, exploring how the heroine, Dinah, is affected by a lie. However, the plot doesn't end there--Frank is so skilled at creating believable, complex characters that she seemed unable to stop them from continuing to tell their stories even after her points about HUAC were made. By the time I got to the end, I was wondering what exactly was the main purpose of the book. The author apparently could have followed the characters until each of their deaths, and the novel ends up as a sprawling portrait of a disturbed family, rather than the meditation on integrity and political ideas that it starts out to be.

The characters are generally well-rounded and believable, and Frank includes memorable personal details in even the minor figures. Characters who might have come across as merely villainous are more thoughtfully explored here. For example, Jake Lasker, a Hollywood writer and grossly philandering husband, might have been portrayed as the standard piggish cheater. But Frank makes him by turns horrible and sympathetic: brutal to his son, yet endearing in his aspiration to write Clifford-Odets-style plays that glorify his working-class roots.

A weaker character, in my opinion, is Veevie, the heroine's sister. Because Veevie is incredibly beautiful, she is loved by all who meet her, leaving her sister feeling in the shadows. But Veevie is never in the least likable to the reader, who cannot see her; she is pathologically self-involved. It seemed implausible to me that other characters in the story wouldn't eventually realize this, as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Screwball, Satire and Tragedy October 11, 2004
This book is both hilarious, moving, sad and satirical. Elizabeth Frank is an amazing story teller like the early Phillip Roth and sometimes like IB Singer. The characters in this book are conflicted, ambitious eccentric citizens of Hollywood. Who new that such complexity lies in the hearts and minds of the residents of Beverly Hills. The blacklist of 1950s America turns the life of this particular family, the Laskers, into chaos. The characters are fully alive with humor and broken hearts. The philandering husband, Jake can't resist sexual liasons and pastrami sandwiches in the middle of the night. Their kids Lorna and Peter remind me of Scout and Gem in 'To Kill a Mocking Bird' learning all about growing up, not among the poor and opressed, but among loneliness, neglect and the painful criticism of grown-ups. They have no Atticus Finch. But they have an amazing and imperfect mother, Dinah, who does testify before the HUAC to save her family while she is still able to demonstrate tremendous integrity in life. Dinah's rivalry with her gorgeous sister, Veevee grows more complicated and divisive as bothwomen grow older looking back at the folly of their former political involvement with 'The Party.' There are other great charcters and details in this book that one can only know as a reader. It is a beautifully observed story of a certain time and place. AM Weiss
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That Elizabeth Frank is screenwriter-novleist is more than evident in this sumptuous period piece on 1950's Hollywood's in its darkest hour. With vivid, crystalline detail, Frank ushers us right inside the hallowed inner circles of Hollywood's elite as they cope with the consequences of the poison-pen ethos of McCarthyist Washington, parrying its wrath in order to keep their careers, dignity, families and homes intact and move forward with their lives. Frank's snappy storytelling doesn't miss a beat as she jet-sets us from the deal-making pool parties of Southern California, to hedonistic ex-pats basking in sunny Southern France, to the rehearsal halls of New York and back again, all while shattering the glass house inhabited by Dinah and Jake Lasker en famille, and others, with consummate skill. Cheat and Charmer's best enjoyed on the beach or on the porch where you can savor every nostalgic detail of life in the fifties and feel completely transported to another time and place. This one deserves an encore!
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