Jill Robinson

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Pearl K. Bell

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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 happens to the girl during her quest seems worthy of Mrs. Robinson's savvy wisecracking talent (as Susanna would put it: just like Rosalind Russell).

"Movie stars are different from real people," the Hollywood princess, now grown up and fretting at the reins of her dull marriage to a Hollywood prince, declares toward the end of the book. "If you ever saw one of the big ones you know what I mean." This is glib and lazy; it merely asserts what the novelist should long to portray with all the dramatic richness and precision that memory and understanding can bestow. Instead, Jill Robinson has leaned far too heavily in "Perdido" on the facile and perfunctory slickness of the movie-fed mentality, and the result is another missed opportunity—not a good Hollywood novel but just another movie. (p. 45)

Pearl K. Bell, "Hollywood Princess," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 23, 1978, pp. 11, 45.

[In "Perdido,"] Perdido is the (loaded) name of the dream estate belonging to a Hollywood producer, and it is where this story of his stepdaughter's coming of age in the nineteen-fifties begins and ends. We join Susanna Howard—precocious, spoiled, and self-conscious—on page 1 in the first person and in the present tense, and we never leave her side as she caroms around the country in search of the actor Jackson Lane, a golden-haired idol whose relation to Susanna is the crux of the plot. At first, it is all a lot of fun. But the style and tone soon begin to wear; the naïve and bubbly voice of Susanna, the meticulous sameness of pace, and that damnable present tense as she feeds the action, like inches of film, out of her sensitive memory become maddening. Considering how many adventures, discoveries, and crises Susanna has had by the time she reaches the age of twenty-four, one can only wonder at how much she remembers and how little she has learned. (p. 145)

The New Yorker (© 1978 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), May 1, 1978.

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Nancy Lynn Schwartz