When I began reading “True Grandeur: A Hollywood Novel”, by Cal R. Barnes, I didn’t expect to become captivated by the story and the characters, let alone read the entire book in one sitting without a break. Yet, that is exactly what happened.
“True Grandeur” is the narrative of Conrad Arlington, a talented, youthful writer who moves to Hollywood and regards himself as The Last True Artist. As he is working on developing his career and honing his art in Hollywood, he meets Gracie Garrison, and it’s love at first sight for him. She is pure, she is perfect, she is everything. However, she is emotionally elusive and mysterious, and has rules (“Don’t ask me questions.”). After Conrad and Gracie spend an evening together, an evening where she asked him out to attend party after party and meet the most unusual, quirky people and a quite large cherry with eyes, Gracie disappears for months with the unlikeable Maxwell Price. Conrad embarks on a pursuit to find her, but instead finds gossip about her and confusion of who people think she is, if they have any inkling at all.
The story follows to a denouement that not only finally reveals the true Gracie, but Conrad’s epiphanically realization of who he is and what it really was that he was pursuing.
“True Grandeur” has rich and well-developed characters, and it wasn’t long before I cared about who each was and which direction each might take in their lives. As an homage to Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” I saw similarities in “True Grandeur” between Conrad Arlington and Jay Gatsby, Gracie Garrison and Daisy Buchanan, Evie Clark and Jordan Baker, and Maxwell Price and Tom Buchanan, et al. But these aren’t just more modern-day reincarnations of Fitzgerald’s cast moved from New York to California; these are characters that can be anyone, anywhere, in any place, but they – Conrad, Gracie, Evie, Maxwell, et al – are the personalities that were created for and belong in “True Grandeur.”
I was impressed on how well Evie was portrayed: cool, aloof, an expert at eye rolling and looking vacuous into nothing, cautious of who she may or may not let past her emotional wall. Benjamin Trask is an interesting character who knew things, but didn’t, too, and the scene where he and Conrad meet at the hotel and drinking liquor is memorable. I can still hear the clink-clink-clink of the ice in their glasses.
Then there is the devilishly delightful Bobby Finch the art dealer with his high-pitched voice and fashion statements; boozy Alice and her eight-foot Chester the Cherry; other supporting characters; the Hollywood area street and neighborhood references; and the nonchalant mentioning of films, directors, writers, and novels. The mentioning of places, people, and media are artfully done, that is, they didn’t come across as a litany of cultural and pop knowledge by the author, but rather, as important additions to the settings, the conversations, and overall story narration.
What struck me the most is the author’s dexterous talent to be able to write (what I believe as) streams of consciousness without being overtly recognizable as streams of consciousness. In fact, these passages are tightly controlled and easily carry readers over and though and around Conrad’s struggles and frustrations with his emotions. This is not an easy task in writing, yet Cal R. Barnes proves that it can be done, and be done well.
Additionally, the author has such skillful writing talent that he did not have to use any vulgarity in this story. That’s right – not a vulgar curse word to be found on any page. To be able to write without tossing in four-letter words shows a respect for readers and intelligent command of the English language, in my opinion. This book reads (or rather, it made me think of) old classic movies that showed love scenes, but the bedroom door closed on the audience before a slipper was even kicked off the foot.
There are a few – very few – spelling errors sprinkled throughout the book, so maybe another run-though by the editor would put the final polish to this remarkable and magnificently-written story of love, maturing, evolving, and searching for one’s self.
I highly recommend “True Grandeur: A Hollywood Novel” ten out of five stars. Yes, you read that right – it’s that good.
I received a copy from the author, Cal R. Barnes, wherein he asked if I would read “True Grandeur” and give my honest review. Thank you, Mr. Barnes, for thinking of me to read and review your book. Every part of this article is my own opinion.
Now, go out and get your copy!
You can also read my review of “True Grandeur” and other books:
©Susan Marie Molloy and all works within.