Garson Kanin Nora Johnson - Essay

Nora Johnson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Garson Kanin has been marinating in the theater since before most of us were ever in an audience…. [In his eighth] novel, "Smash"—the story of the development, from auditions to opening, of a fictitious Broadway musical ("Shine On, Harvest Moon")—he relates his theatrical tale with the facility of a master, someone who has seen it all and can still smile with affection at this world of magic and mania.

Mr. Kanin puts the narration into the mouth of novice production secretary Midge Maghakian, whose Journal and Company Bulletins chronicle the dizzying interactions among an evil producer ("The Barracuda"), vulnerable director, tortured composer, blindingly narcissistic star, heroic and lovable writer (who captures Midge's heart), and other members of the company. It's hard to say which is more complex, the painstaking construction of that many-dimensioned art form, the musical show, or the network of intrigue and emotional games played by these high-strung and talented people…. We marvel that the job ever gets done until we are reminded again that theater people put the show first, and everything else—love, sex, personal values, even money—far down the list of priorities. It's enough to make anyone but the wise Mr. Kanin cynical.

This is a grand, entertaining story. If there's a loose end or two, it is more than made up for by the author's skill as a storyteller, his kindliness of vision, and his persuasive understanding of the younger generation. (p. 42)

Nora Johnson, "Fun, Sex and Music," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 23, 1980, pp. 14, 42.∗