I'm not really sure how this book ended up on my to-read list. I read Southland earlier this year (and did not like it), but when the hold came up from the library I plowed through this one. Both novels deal with race relations (in part) in southern CA in a historical setting. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with either.
In this book, Revoyr attempts to do a lot. She tries to deal with nascent Hollywood and the transformation from silent films to talkies; she embeds several different love stories (including illegitimate children, jilted lovers, murder, and unrequited love); she addresses the shallow nature of the film industry; and she comments on the racism displayed towards Japanese Americans before and during WWII. As typically happens when an author attempts to do a lot, she does it all rather poorly.
Specifically, I was frustrated by Jun's frequent conflicting comments. He is simultaneously sad that his career ended and relieved to be out of the spotlight. He keeps his identity a secret for 40 years, but secretly considers himself a big star and Revoyr constantly reminds the reader that he was identifiable everywhere he went. He also wants to put off Bellinger, but then wonders what other people would think of the fact that he is being considered for a part in the movie.
Other characters were also portrayed inconsistently. Elizabeth is first described as: "This woman, for all her radiance, had known disappointments, had lived, and it was the incongruity of these elements--her loveliness and the scars that even beauty could not hide--that so captured me that evening of our youth." as Jun watches her manipulate the room full of men. And yet, many years later after becoming her lover he is surprised and upset that she is interested in and occasionally spends time with other men.
I also felt that Revoyr's portrayal of Hollywood was anachronistic. She talks about the Hollywood publicity machine (which clearly exists), but the current day of the story is 1964 (which is nothing like 2013 for publicity machine). I felt like she used the mindset of modern times and just pretended that was the way things were in 1964. Along these lines, I thought that the salaries were WAY off for 1918. I did not look it up, but $10,000/week (which is what Jun makes at one point) is more than $500,000/year; that is a large salary for current times, but in 1918 seems absolutely ridiculous.
Many of the plot points I found convenient and unbelievable: Jun is able to come to America simply because a rich guy from WI decides to give him passage and sponsor him at UW; he just happens to make a challenge to a theater owner the night before he is supposed to head back to Japan and IT IS ACCEPTED. He goes to speak to Rosenberg to make sure their tracks are covered (and so adds the ridiculous murder mystery drama) and then WAITS TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH THE OTHERS just so that conveniently Dreyfus can get to Nora first. He bumps into Veil at the café (after not having seen him in 40 years) just after revealing to the reader that he is Nora's child's father. All just mechanistic improbable BLECCHY sort of plot contrived garbage.
Ultimately, I was most disgusted with Revoyr's attempt (I think this is what she was attempting) to be subtle about the prejudice faced by Japanese in the period leading up to WWII. Jun "develops" through the course of the book only in that in the beginning he is unwilling to credit racism for the decline of his career (or the discrimination he faces in public both with Elizabeth and others or his inability to own property or OH YEAH THE JAPANESE INTERNMENT CAMPS IN WWII). He is nothing short of delusional in the beginning of the book and only after Revoyr describes MANY MANY MANY (yeah, really A LOT) of instances in which prejudice play a large part is he willing to concede that maybe he faced some racism in his life.
As in Southland, I found Revoyr's text to be uninspired. She writes clearly, but at times gets bogged down with her foreshadowing and outlining. She is quite repetitive with her language. Most chapters begun with a "oh you wouldn't believe how bad today was for me" and then recapped the day's events. I would have rather seen the action unfold than have Jun reminiscent about both current action and his past.
Overall it is a short quick read; relatively entertaining but overall full of contradictions, stereotypes and no real substance. I can't quite say it is not worth the time (it is short), but certainly is not recommended.