All The Stars In The Heavens

Author: Adriana Trigiani
Publisher: Harpers Collins, fiction

If you think modern day stars have scandals that would make a nun’s eyes pop out, take a peek at the lives of Hollywood’s Golden Age stars who ruled the roost in the first half of the 20th century. Some of the things that went down were pretty hardcore for that era: Errol Flynn was charged with the statutory rape of two underage girls, married Ingrid Bergman had an affair with married director Roberto Rosselini and became pregnant with his child, Charlie Chaplin was besotted with teenage girls and so on and so forth. Real blush-worthy stuff.

In All The Stars In The Heavens, Adriana Trigiani presents a fictionalised tale inspired by the life of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the early 20th century, Loretta Young. No stranger to scandal, Young was linked romantically to many of her co-stars, the most notable of whom was Gone With The Wind legend Clark Gable. Trigiani also adds another wholly fictional character to the mix, former nun Alda Ducci, Young’s loyal secretary who has trials and tribulations of her own to deal with.

The book largely tells the story of the alleged love affair between Young and Gable who were said to have bonded during the filming of the movie Call Of The Wild. Only 21 and unmarried, Young became pregnant with the married 34-year-old Gable’s child, Judy.

Loretta Young, circa 1950. Photo: AFP

Pregnancies out of wedlock were kept hush-hush at the time, with studio bosses often encouraging abortions – fates which befell Jean Harlow and Judy Garland.

All The Stars In The Heavens has some good moments, and these are exemplified in the beginning of the book, when Young lives with her mother and three sisters. The emotion conveyed in these scenes are the most genuine ones you will find in the entire novel, and portray a warm family home. Trigiani’s gift for recreating anachronistic scenes also means you’ll get a true sample of what life was like for the early stars, who often had to sign morality clauses by which they had to conduct their lives.

Unfortunately, for all its warmth, the novel is also besieged with faults. At nearly 500 pages, it is far, far too long. The story isn’t compelling enough to be stretched out like that and would have been better served if it had been whittled down tremendously, because at the moment, some pages are real snooze-fests.

Then there are the characters. While Young and Gable are vibrant and energetic and Young’s family is delightful, Ducci sticks out like a sore thumb. I understand the need to create a character who basically tails Young and has a backstage pass to her life, but I simply did not like her much or even want her in the novel at all.

str2_abistarsR_coverAlso, the book has the bad luck of terrible timing. While Young was long said to have fathered Gable’s love child, in July 2015, her son and daughter-in-law revealed that she had confessed to having been date raped by Gable. This significantly alters the way modern readers view the relationship between Gable and Young. Whether the allegations are true or not, it’s a bit distasteful to tell a story about a star-crossed romance when Young could well have been the victim of sexual assault. It gives the story a distinctly off-colour tinge that is hard to shake off, like a bad joke that comes off as offensive.

So when you read the book, you read it with this kernel of knowledge lodged in your brain. And this means the author has an added responsibility. She has to employ her full artistic arsenal, snaking her way into your head to dislodge the information you have, impacting what you think you know and replacing it with her version of events.

Because the best kinds of books are the ones that aid in suspending reality, setting aside versions of the truth or the truth itself and doing it so well that you are inclined to believe the information presented. Emma Donoghue did it with Frog Music (who murdered cross-dressing Jenny Bonnet?) and Dan Brown did it with The Da Vinci Code (Jesus had a child!). Unfortunately, Adriana Trigiani has not done it with All The Stars In The Heavens.