Janet Malcolm

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480

The distinguishing characteristic of ["The Hollywood Kid"] … is its author's profound contempt for the mental capacity of her readers….

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[The protagonist, Bryan,] is the only son of a beautiful movie actress who puts stardom before motherhood and devotes just half an hour every day to her son—an arrangement, considering the quality of his conversation, one can hardly blame her for. When the book begins, the boy's stepfather has just died. He had been a movie director and the one person, besides a Polish cleaning woman, "who ever said anything to Bryan that he remembered." The dull-witted boy, however, is considerably less affected by his stepfather's death than he is exercised about the décor of the mortuary chapel where the body lies. "Why did everything in California have to be phony or a lie?" he wonders. The mother takes the director's death at its face value—as the plot device it is—and dutifully assumes the tired part of the mother trying to extract from her son the love she never gave him and has no right to expect from him. The book records at great length how the boy comes to terms with her and learns to feel sorry for the awful people in California instead of hating them. In the climactic scene, which takes place in Disneyland, the mother is mobbed by her fans, and the boy goes to the rest room and throws up. A man appears and explains that the fans are "just a bunch of poor slobs" who "do all that because they need love…. That's what they lack, all those slobs, love and beauty." The boy "sees," and stops hating people. "Life, he was sure, was a sort of struggle," and he decides to take up writing "as an exercise" to "help him understand about people."

"The Hollywood Kid" is just one of many children's books as confused and derivative, and I have singled it out as a typical rather than a unique instance. Its author was honored in 1965 with the Newbery Medal, the highest award for children's fiction in the industry, and she takes her calling very seriously, hoping, she says on the book jacket, "to infect them [children], through my books, with love of life and a sense of what's important." Miss Wojciechowska writes her books for readers between eleven and fourteen—an age at which she believes children "tend to be intellectually snobbish." They may be that (whatever it means), but I'm afraid they are not as stupid as most authors of children's books would like them to be, and that they are just as quick to spot pretension and shoddy thinking as the members of book-award juries seem to be slow to. (pp. 217-18)

Janet Malcolm, in her review of "The Hollywood Kid," in The New Yorker (© 1966 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLII, No. 43, December 17, 1966, pp. 217-19.

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