"Hollywood is both a small town and a magical kingdom," remarks an actor in Jill Robinson's novel Perdido. And it is precisely this tension, this contradiction between daily life and larger than life, which makes this Hollywood novel so interesting. It is hardly the steamy fan-mag roman-à-clef or the explicit memoir one might expect from the daughter of a one-time studio chief [Jill Robinson is the daughter of Dore Schary]. Rather, it's part Our Town and part epic, with Hollywood as the backdrop for an often haunting story of a young woman's search for her father.
The heroine is Susanna Howard, granddaughter of one of movieland's founding fathers, who lives with her extended, dynastic family in one of those mansions Hollywood's immigrant pioneers built, a sprawling American Versailles called "Perdido." Susanna's small adolescent obsessions are magnified against the opulent background of movieland aristocracy. (p. 473)
The best thing about Robinson's depiction of family life in a patriarchal kingdom is her illumination of the women in Hollywood: mothers, wives and daughters of actors, directors, producers, writers. The book conveys a perceptive vision of this distaff network of life-supporting appendages and indicates that the women are, for myriad reasons, the survivors, defying the beauty ethic that would seemingly make them this town's first casualties.
The epic, rather tragic...
(The entire section is 532 words.)
The liveliest moments in this very uneven novel ["Perdido"] are firmly rooted in Jill Robinson's abundant insider's lore of Hollywood opulence and vulgarity and the protective astigmatism that habitually blurred the line between projection-room fictions and unglamorous realities, such as blacklisting, television and box-office clinkers. (pp. 11, 45)
But it is one thing to have been reared in that phantasmagoric hothouse, to possess such an unweeded surfeit of scenes and plots and musical themes from hundreds of movies, and another to convert all this authentic detail into a serious novel. In the first half of "Perdido," Jill Robinson establishes her credentials for writing about pre-television Hollywood with witty intelligence, skewering its absurdities and artifice, its cutthroat anxieties about money and fame and power. But when she moves on to the story department, the tenacious grip of old movies proves stronger than literary originality, and she settles for a weary B-movie scenario that would have been a dud property 30 years ago….
The harder Susanna runs [in search of her true father], the less Jill Robinson seems willing to bother with any irritating complexities of character, feeling, motive and experience. Indeed, she abandons Hollywood, the novel's indispensable locus, for so long that by the time Susanna defeatedly returns to Southern California, the popcorn and the patience have run out. Little that...
(The entire section is 558 words.)