Back in January, I made a New Year's resolution to read 30 books this year. Over the past 12 months, I've been tracking my progress with the Goodreads app, and because I've been spending much more time using it, it's also surfacing a lot of great recommendations.
That is how I found The Comeback by Ella Berman. It's a fictionalized story of a young actress who is groomed and then abused by a powerful Hollywood director.
When the story opens, Grace Turner is in Anaheim, CA at her parents' house, where she has been hiding out for a year. She disappeared at the height of her career, just as she was nominated for a Golden Globe award. The media have been speculating about her whereabouts and when she does decide to return to LA, the paparazzi are right there waiting for her.
As you read, the story bounces between present day and flashbacks.
I found this bit about how Grace discovered she had the "it" factor to be powerful. On page 23, "When I was thirteen, a casting director came to my school in London to find an unknown actress for a trilogy about a trio of teen assassins at an international spy school. We all put our names down to audition for the part, and the other girls giggled and rehearsed all morning, arguing over who deserved to be in the film the most. I ignored them, and the casting director's appraising eye, instead staring down at a well-worn copy of The Catcher in the Rye that I carried around because I thought it made me seem complicated. I had long, glossy cinnamon-colored hair, one blue eye and one green, and dimples, all of which meant I was already popular so I could afford to be pretentious. Dimples are the kind of thing that matter in a state school in London, and everywhere else, it turns out."
We follow Grace from that initial casting, to her high profile role as a star of this trilogy, to the solo role that really puts her on the map as an adult actress. Eventually, we also learn about her toxic relationship with the director of all of those films. I won't say more, because the author reveals these hard truths in a thoughtful way and it's worth reading it yourself.
While I was gripped by the plot, I also enjoyed the vivid descriptions of LA, Venice in particular. I spent some vacation time in Venice in August 2019 and I just adore that neighborhood. In doing a little research about Berman, I learned she grew up in London and LA, which explains how she can paint such clear pictures of these cities.
For example, "Abbot Kinney is the same as when I left, only more. It's a ten-minute walk from the coast and it has transformed from a local neighborhood with a few restaurants into a bourgeois, farm-to-table influencer heaven - Beverly Hills by the sea. I push past teenage girls posing with brightly colored juices outside storefronts painted pink just for them, while women with bodies like Victoria's Secret models line up for coffee outside the minimalist spot with the amphitheater seating. There are fewer store selling healing crystals and more stores selling $800 shirts, and men with full beards wandering aimlessly at eleven a.m. on a Friday, holding babies with names like Hudson and Juniper in slings around their necks."
That is so accurate!! She also mentions many Venice restaurants by name - Gjelina, The Butcher's Daughter - both places I have been and loved.
At the close of the book, there is an author's note in which Berman explains why she decided to tell this kind of story. "I started writing The Comeback in February 2017, and I understood from the start who Grace was, and what she'd experienced in a male-dominated environment of toxic power that had gone unchecked for too long. This was eight months before the New Yorker and New York Times articles exposing the systemic sexism and chilling sexual abuse allegations in Hollywood came out."
She goes on to say that even though the public is now well aware of these kinds of power imbalances, she still felt Grace's story needed to be out in the world.
Despite the tough subjects, I really enjoyed this book. I thought the writing was brilliant and I particularly enjoyed being transported back to LA. If you're seeking a good read during the upcoming holiday break, add this one to your list!