The Great Pretenders, by Laura Kalpakian, puts us face-to-face with 1950s America.
Roxanne Granville spent her childhood at a movie studio run by her famous grandfather. Her parents were actors who had little to do with Roxanne. Movies are part of her life, but it’s the 1950s, and things are changing drastically. Her grandfather has bought into the Red Scare, and has fired many people for being “red”, even if they were his friends, and even if the accusations aren’t true.
Roxanne’s beloved grandmother has died, and leaves her personal money to Roxanne. This allows Roxanne to open her own agency where she will represent screenwriters, and distance herself from her grandfather. But it isn’t long before these same writers — men and women with whom she grew up loving — to ask her to help get their writing into the right hands by having someone else’s name on the script.
It works. Until things start getting complicated. And one of her biggest complications is falling in love with a Black journalist — a man who has become an activist in the civil rights movement.
I grew up in the 1950s, but have little memory of the so-called Red Scare, or how deeply it impacted Hollywood. I, of course, am familiar with the situation of Black Americans long before the Black Lives Matter movement. Still, it’s hard for me to imagine how seriously separated the races were in the 1950s and 1960s.
I really enjoyed the book. I certainly grimaced at the situations that took place throughout the story. Still, I liked the characters — at least the ones who were the good guys . The glamour and romance of Hollywood was so well written that I could picture the dresses and see the movie stars smoking their cigarettes in restaurants as they awaited their martinis. The mental pictures drawn by the author kept me on the edge of my seat as secrets became exposed and it became more and more clear that Roxanne and Terrance’s love affair was going to be out in the open eventually.
I enjoyed the book very much, and recommend it enthusiastically.