Garson Kanin Zachary Leader - Essay

Zachary Leader

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Smash is] an "insider's" novel, one whose appeal lies in its promise to "tell all" or "take the lid off." It is also, inevitably, something of a roman à clef, with a teasingly anonymous "Star" of Streisand-like difficulty and background, as well as a famous and familiar-sounding over-sexed composer….

Smash focuses on what might be called the creative, as opposed to financial, aspects of its story—what happens in audition, rehearsal, and performance—its ring is familiar…. Less familiar is the novel's account of backstage manoeuvering, of struggles for power and influence…. The best bits, accordingly, focus on the producer's machinations (particularly his attempts to fire the director); when the director himself takes centre stage in the earlier sections—to talk about acting, committment, show biz—the novel drags.

In the end, petty jealousies and backbiting come close to wrecking the musical. But suffering and messiness … are seen as necessary and inevitable in creative work, like labour pains. "I remind myself", the narrator muses, "that birth is not altogether beautiful." Still, in this case, things are so messy and painful, so much goes wrong, that it's hard to believe in the show's ultimate survival. The calamities, though individually plausible, form a sort of anthology.

A similiarly implausible air hangs about the novel's narrator and heroine, Midge Maghakian. Midge, the show's "nubile new production secretary", is perfectly placed to record its fortunes. She's also a transparent authorial convenience: at one moment worldly and fallible (when helping the producer blackmail the composer), at the next, idealistic and naive. In the concluding sections of the novel Midge falls for a comparably convenient hero, Gene Bowman, author of the book from which Shine On, Harvest Moon is adapted. Gene is mature, a widower; his manners are courtly and sophisticated, he knows everything (especially about fine food and drink, key ingredients in the novel's vision of the glamorous life); and his lovemaking, according to Midge, "goes on ceaselessly. It stretches back to always was and goes on into infinity." Gene is "the hero of the hour" who helps save the show; his timeliness and impeccable integrity in these shark-infested waters make him boring and unreal.

Zachary Leader, "Hitting the Big Time," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1981; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4078, May 29, 1981, p. 606.