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Sunnyside opens on a winter day in 1916 during which Charlie Chaplin is spotted in more than eight hundred places simultaneously, an extraordinary delusion that forever binds the overlapping fortunes of three men: Leland Wheeler, son of the world’s last (and worst) Wild West star, as he finds unexpected love on the battlefields of France; Hugo Black, drafted to fight under the towering General Edmund Ironside in America’s doomed expedition against the Bolsheviks; and Chaplin himself, as he faces a tightening vise of complications—studio moguls, questions about his patriotism, his unchecked heart, and, most menacing of all, his mother.
The narrative is as rich and expansive as the ground it covers, and it is cast with a dazzling roster of both real and fictional characters: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Adolph Zukor, Chaplin’s (first) child bride, a thieving Girl Scout, the secretary of the treasury, a lovesick film theorist, three Russian princesses (gracious, nervous, and nihilist), a crew of fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants moviemakers, legions of starstruck fans, and Rin Tin Tin.
By turns lighthearted and profound, Sunnyside is an altogether spellbinding novel about dreams, ambition, and the dawn of the modern age.
Which is where I come in. I'm a fan of the inexplicable. When Chaplin became the most famous man in the world, he surpassed the previous most famous man in the world, Houdini. And yet no one has really tried to grasp—in a novel&mdash:the consequences of the very first uncontrolled frisson of fame. Perhaps because few authors grew up among Hollywood-style genius and madness, Chaplin has rarely been used in fiction. But I lived in Hollywood (the very hospital I was born in later became the Scientology West Coast headquarters). My great aunt Ingrid, a journalist, was Chaplin's neighbor in Switzerland; family legend has it that he dictated parts of his autobiography to her.
So: in 1914, Chaplin was barely even a film comedian, Hollywood was a farm town where the lights went out at 8 o'clock, and America was more or less a great big cornfield with an occasional city poking among its rows. And in 1918, Chaplin was a genius, Hollywood was the world's aspirational mecca, and America... well, America was in serious trouble, in that it thought it had won the War.
Sunnyside is the story of this rapid transformation as Chaplin and his adopted country lose, one more devastating time, their innocence.
While I was working on Sunnyside, I realized to my embarrassment I was writing about something of importance. Try as I might to keep it light entertainment (and yes, there are train chases, dancing princesses, clever jewel robberies, crossbow executions, rescues at sea and battles with flamethrowers), it turned out that I was writing a novel of ideas. It relies less on plot than character, less on explosions (but I did mention the flamethrowers, no?) than on epiphanies, less on clever twists than on an ever-deepening worldview. I wanted to explain how only America both wins and loses wars at the very same moment.
Sunnyside plunders film theory, fairytales, arcane Hollywood business practices and the private lives of its most famous citizens so I can question in the end whether the universe actually has meaning, or if narrative is our last, best attempt to beat back a crushing loneliness that almost none of us can comprehend.
Oh, almost none of us—except Charlie Chaplin. —Glen David Gold
(Photo © Jonathan Sprague)
That just left me scratching my head, feeling way too literal and like I wasn't in on something.
It was so long and with each turn of the page, it just seemed like it was longer and longer and I just wasn't getting into it and didn't really care how it ended.
It's just unusual to find such a fine storyteller writing such a fine novel without telling us a larger story.
Delightful characters brought to life by a master story teller.Published 4 months ago by H. A. Gold
To be fair, I take part of the blame for being let down by this book. As a Chaplin fan, it was the cover and title of this novel that sparked my curiosity. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Bobby W.
I loved Gold's *Carter Beats the Devil* and I love Charlie Chaplin. And I love the time and place in which *Sunnyside* is set. Read morePublished on October 10, 2011 by Dave
It is just anguishing to anticipate a book having read its predecessor and dive into one such as "Sunnyside" and come up so painfully short. If Mr. Read morePublished on October 2, 2011 by jfd213
Gold's second novel is a frustratingly disjointed read. Where Carter Beats the Devil was a tightly wound narrative, Sunnyside is a sprawl of loose ends. Read morePublished on May 24, 2011 by BenReviews
I understand the complaints that many other reviewers have noted regarding discontinuities, improbabilities and unfinished storytelling. And I don't know if Mr. Read morePublished on December 20, 2010 by Jay B.
It's been a long, long time since I gave myself the time and space to read a long novel. I loved that Sunnyside is a delicious exercise in Sunday afternoon laying-on-the bed... Read morePublished on August 26, 2010 by Diana L. Mercer
I loved the author's "Carter Beats the Devil," so I was really looking forward to reading his next effort. Unfortunately, I could not get through it. Read morePublished on July 28, 2010 by bert1761
Just as enjoyable as his previous "Carter Beats the Devil," Glen David Gold has written a multi-layered novel about celebrity, the foolishness of war, the growth of Hollywood... Read morePublished on July 27, 2010 by William H. Young