Silver Screen, which is told as the story of the Murphy family, is a searching series of variations on one of Howard's large themes: celebrity in American life, the allure it holds, the falsification it works. Persona versus person: it's a conflict that painfully engages the principal characters, New Englanders from a decayed seashore community.
The New York Times
This meditative entry in Howard's quartet of novels inspired by the four seasons (after A Lover's Almanac and Big as Life) is flavored by hints of summer. As the novel opens, Isabel Maher, once a minor star of silent film, dies in her house in a seaside town in Rhode Island, tended by her aging children. Joe, her doted-on favorite, a Jesuit priest troubled by his flawed past, is stunned when immediately following the funeral his younger sister Rita, long overlooked as a dumpy spinster, marries ex-mobster Manny Salgado and disappears with him into the Witness Protection Program. Floundering from this double loss, Joe boards in his old hometown with Gemma; now an award-winning photographer, Gemma spent much of her childhood as an ersatz third sibling to Joe and Rita. Howard spools out the perspectives of the four main players (Bel's voice coming from beyond the grave), gradually revealing their secrets, passions and disappointments. Though Joe and Bel are better developed than Gemma and Rita, the stories of all four are anchored by Howard's lovely and precise prose and by the complexities of communication and disconnection, the roles in which we are all cast or miscast in life. Readers of the series so far will also have the pleasure of discovering further connections between disparate characters in this wide, seasonal tapestry. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (Aug. 9) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Sad, smart, and sometimes funny, this latest entry in Howard's series of novels (after A Lover's Almanac and Big as Life) stars silent film actress Isabel Maher. When the talkies come, she settles down with a disabled husband and two children in Providence, RI. Bel's exotic past and dramatic personality, however, haunt the lives of her children. Dumpy Rita resentfully tends to her mother until her death, then takes off with her secret gangster boyfriend in the Witness Protection Program. Joe, the favored child, fits uncomfortably into the priesthood. The prose is a big languid and the story sometimes convoluted, but the novel should find an appreciative audience in academic and larger public libraries.-Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A woman renounces a promising film career to raise two children, their life journeys weaving a gossamer tale of transitions and death. Isabel Maher Murphy seems on the verge of movie stardom as Hollywood is turning from silent to talking pictures. Her screen test for Louis B. Mayer apparently pleased the "suits" of that time at M-G-M, but Archer chooses to walk off the set and return to her home in Rhode Island and marriage to an enterprising insurance salesman who could have walked off the streets of Sinclair Lewis's Zenith. Like Garbo, Isabel, now Bel, never fully articulates her reasons for leaving Hollywood. Nor does author Howard offer full explanations in this third installment of a planned four-novel series (Big as Life, 2001; A Lover's Almanac, 1998). Rather, with some sense of mystery, she spins out Bel's life story, and the life stories of her daughter, Rita; her son, Joe, a Jesuit priest; and of a curious, young neighbor, Gemma Riccardi. Like silent film itself, the tales are told from alternating points of view (not always meaningfully "edited" together) and are highlighted by haunting, powerful images. Joe's mission leads him to the violence of El Salvador, while chubby Rita faces the violence of the Mob through her marriage to a gangster. Gemma, a photographer seeking to imprint on her work a singular style, petitions Bel with questions: Why did she leave Hollywood? Was raising a family in a small coastal town more rewarding than acting? Bel's answers appear encoded in moments she shares with her children, as when she delights in the role of a declaiming guide during their visit to a Melville museum. Bel's life-and the lives of her children, reaching melancholy ends-unreelin what may have been her favorite film. Meticulous and graceful, though some may find the allusions, dense sentences, and sometimes-opaque narrative a touch rarefied.