There is a line which has resounded through B-films, soap-operas and pulp fiction and it goes something like this: "Ned, wait!… Are you familiar with what are commonly referred to as the Greek mysteries?" There is a pregnant pause, and Ned whispers, in a tone somewhere between shock, anguish and determination, "No! And that won't stop me!" My first quote is taken verbatim from Mr Tryon's new novel (he is already famous for The Other, the other one), but I must admit to writing the second quote myself. The Ned is Theodore Constantine and indeed he doesn't let it stop him; his abysmal ignorance of classical ritual accounts for most of the plot of Harvest Home, and he wouldn't know a vegetation symbol if one got up and tickled him…. Who is Widow Fortune, and why does she keep crying "Drat!" and "Where in the nation!"? Is there something which the villagers will not or cannot reveal? And why is everything so damned rural? Read on, Mr Tryon keeps hinting, and you may see something nasty.
And indeed, eventually, we do. At first there is only the occasional glimpse of darkness visible; the villagers mutter about something called the "Waste" and at one of their simple country fairs there are enough phallic symbols to make an academic blush. But Tryon writes very discreetly, and the first climax comes almost without warning….
The story in question has something to do with the Earth-Mother and the Eternal...
(The entire section is 450 words.)
Thomas Tryon seems to have been born with a silver story in his mouth. He spins best-selling novels: "The Other," "Harvest Home," "Lady." He probably has written another best seller in "Crowned Heads"—a tale with the impact of "The National Enquirer" crossed with "The Day of the Locust."
The places are right: Los Angeles, New York City, the undiscovered paradises of Mexico and Crete. And Tryon's characters, four of Hollywood's ex-crowned heads bear so much resemblance to real people in remembered situations that his fiction seems to merge with fact. I assume that "Crowned Heads" draws from dozens of actual lives—Greta Garbo, Mickey Rooney, Freddie Bartholomew, Stan Laurel, Gloria Swanson, Marilyn Monroe—in order to create its splendid illusions. But in the manner of his fellow semi-nonfiction novelists, Tryon dodges identification. (p. 6)
There's something for everyone in "Crowned Heads." Tryon plays to the senses. He presses sex, but it always leads to something deeper. He watches manners, introduces details, covers settings with a Peeping Tom passion. His stories ripple with plots and subplots. (pp. 6-7)
Webster Schott, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 11, 1976.
In spite of what we must technically call Thomas Tryon's prose, his study of a Garbo character, a child prodigy, a failed actress and a decrepit Ronald Colman type, from Hollywood figures who are loosely associated in a particular film, has a curious, even an unaccountable readability. It appeals to that part of one's nature, at least if you were brought up on the films rather than the television, which rejoiced as the organ disappeared and the credits flicked up at the prospect of well-organised, nicely balanced dreams, of appalling acting, primitive morality, and the kind of suspense which could be relied on not to shock your susceptibilities but only to caress your expectations. The plots of the four contes of which Crowned Heads is composed certainly conform to this last point. Fedora-Garbo arranges her own immortality with the aid of an unknown daughter. Bobbit the child prodigy has an even more fantasy-saturated life after his childhood career is over than he ever did during it. Willie, the old charmer, comes to a grisly end, crucified in his own private chapel by a trio of teen-aged monsters. Lorna, the second-rank star, comes to her drink and drug-sodden conclusion in a sexually charged bout with a rattlesnake. This Lorna part of the novel seems to me much the most effective, bringing out in an intimate and painful way the corrupting effect of having to purvey the fantasies that simply titillate others. (p. 61)
William Walsh, in Books and Bookmen (© copyright William Walsh 1976; reprinted with permission), December, 1976.
[Crowned Heads features] four tangentially related Hollywood stars [and] may be the best "Hollywood novel" you will find. Mr. Tryon convincingly depicts what becoming a film star can do to a person, and his characters are beautifully drawn. He does a masterful job of introducing cliché elements while avoiding the clichés themselves. The final section, "Willie," is an exceptionally powerful example of foreshadowing and growing suspense. (p. 17)
Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1977, by the Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 53, No. 1 (Winter, 1977).