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Book Review: Wally Lamb – I’ll Take You There

December 14, 2016

ill-take-you-there-coverAbout I’ll Take You There
by Wally Lamb

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Harper; First Printing edition (November 22, 2016)

In this radiant homage to the resiliency, strength, and power of women, Wally Lamb author of numerous New York Times bestselling novels including She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much is True, and We Are Water weaves an evocative, deeply affecting tapestry of one Baby Boomer’s life and the trio of unforgettable women who have changed it.

I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit and in some cases relive scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.

In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.

Against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic convergence of politics and pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the pressures and trials of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and feminist realities that all women, of every era, must face.

My review

I have loved Wally Lamb’s work for years and had the joy of meeting him this past October at Reading With Robin’s Evening With Authors. He is a gracious, fun, and kind man; it was wonderful to meet the man behind the words.

I’ll Take You There visits many locals that I know from “real life” and that drew my attention right away, it’s always fun to read about the places we know. My parents attend plays at the Garde Theatre in New London, Connecticut, my home state. Incidentally, today marks the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, I grew up in Newtown and so much of who I am and what I love is wrapped up and tied into Newtown. My prayers and love are with the families who lost children and loved ones that horrible December 14th, and my prayers and love are with all those who have their hearts still in Newtown in any way.

So that side-track isn’t actually unlike Felix, Lamb’s protagonist who has a voice that is friendly and conversational, who is at times distracted into other thoughts and stories – or by ghosts. I’m not a big fan of the supernatural so this was harder for me to comfortably accept as a reader, though eventually it didn’t jar me so much. It was a creative tool to give us backstory and depth into his family relationships, to interact with the past in a meaningful way and allow us to live historical scenes with the characters.

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