The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott
Doubleday, 2017. Hardcover, 320 pages.
The Hollywood Daughter is a coming of age story about Jessica “Jesse” Malloy, the daughter of a Hollywood PR executive. Her father, Gabriel, is the epitome of Hollywood’s golden age, while her mother, Vanessa, is a staunch Catholic with loyalties to the church first. The contrast between Jesse’s parents is obvious within the first few pages of the book, which opens when Jesse is 10. When her mother thinks Jesse has become too worldly, Jesse is forced to transfer to the local Catholic school. It is during the formative years that followed where Jesse makes many decisions that affect not just herself but also her family.
The other themes throughout the novel are many. Jesse has a connection to actress Ingrid Bergman that began when she carpooled with fellow students to her first school, as Pia Lindstrom, Bergman’s daughter, was one of the students. Then Bergman became one of her father’s clients and they would periodically meet until Bergman’s love child scandal broke in 1949. While the connection was fleeting, it meant the world to Jesse and helped to set up a life-changing event towards the novel’s end. Another was the strength of the Catholic Church of that era, as shown by Vanessa’s devotion, the acts of the nuns and bishop at the Catholic school, and Jesse and her friend Kathleen’s efforts to embrace Hollywood against the wishes of the former. Lastly, there was also the threat of the Red Scare, which greatly affected Hollywood in the era in which this book was set, with a strong focus on Gabriel and his colleagues.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this novel. As always, Alcott’s writing is well-researched and descriptive and her characters are well-developed. However, to me this novel fell flat compared to her previous three (The Dressmaker, The Daring Ladies of Lowell, and A Touch of Stardust) where each novel was better than the previous one. I think part of that was because I just could not connect to the characters. Even when parts of the novel were emotionally charged and readers could feel it, it was still just not connecting. Then the overall leitmotif, that of Jesse’s connection to Bergman, just never seemed to be that compelling; it seemed like a sideshow to the coming of age tale the novel was supposed to be (even the life-changing event could have happened without it, as readers will be able to determine; it would only have slightly altered the back story behind the event). Part of me wonders if this novel was marketed towards the older generation that came of age in the middle of the twentieth century and would have understood it better. I say this while also being a lover of classic films, of which Bergman’s Casablanca is one of my all-time favorites. I also ponder what would happen if this was marketed as a YA book instead of as an adult novel, since the issues Jesse faced would be the same that age group would be facing, making it a bit more relevant to that group. Lastly, too much was simply going on within the novel theme-wise.
Have you read any of Alcott’s other books? If so, what were your thoughts? Do you have other books to recommend about Hollywood’s golden age or the Red Scare? On the latter, I think The Hours Count, reviewed back in 2015, better encompassed that theme. And in comparing this novel to Alcott’s other Hollywood-based novel, I’d recommend A Touch of Stardust, which featured the filming of Gone with the Wind, any day (reviewed in 2016).
This review is based on an advanced reader edition provided by the publisher.