Monday, February 19, 2007
The Song is You -- Megan Abbott
Megan Abbott's second novel is a dark little tale that mixes real Hollywood folks from 1949 to 1956 with fictional characters. The story is based on the disappearance of Jean Spangler, who had minor roles in two or three films (including one I've seen, Young Man with a Horn). The case is still unsolved, but Abbott presents an interesting possibility. Gil Hopkins, a reporter for a movie mag, is the focus of the story is fictional. In the novel, he's with Spangler on the night she disappears, though he doesn't know what happened to her. He takes care of the cover-up, however, and begins his climb upward. Because he's so useful, Spangler's studio hires him as a publicity man. His job is to start fires and to put them out. Sometimes they're the same fire. When another woman who was with Spangler on the night she disappeared shows up in Gil's office, looking for help, he begins to look into what happened after he last saw Spangler. He tries to discover what happened to her and to find some shred of human decency in himself. This being a very dark tale, you can imagine how much of the latter he finds. He does better, if that's the word, with the former, encountering all manner of sleaze and corruption along the way. Abbott gets the details and the atmosphere right, and Gil's quest is engrossing. It leads to a logical but surprising conclusion, and it's interesting to compare Spangler's story with that of Barbara Payton, another real-life character who also figures into the novel. Payton was in a number of movies, of which I've seen two: Dallas and the immortal Bride of the Gorilla. She, like Spangler, is on the way down, but her fate is somewhat different. Megan Abbott knows noir, and this novel is even better than her debut, Die a Little. Check it out. The cover alone is worth the time. And if you want to hear a podcast about the book, you can find it here.