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Garbo Laughs


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Canadian author Hay's new work is much like an obverse bookend to her first novel, A Student of Weather. While that title is a book of intensity, heat, and unrequited relationships, Garbo Laughs is a novel of emotional winter, ice storms, and underdeveloped relationships. Harriet Browning, her family, and her friends don't so much live life as observe it through the filter of movies. Theirs is a world in which "the hold that Hollywood has on all of our minds" is such "that everything finally is a cliche." The relationships between friends and family are strained by the arrival of a cousin and aunt who represent the wider world, and by the ice storm that encases Ottawa, where the novel is set. Hay's characters are somewhat stilted, and Harriet is a victim of Hay's deft drawing of an insipid and timid woman-the only emotion she stirs in the reader is the desire to give her a good shake. Garbo Laughs has the potential to be a popular cult novel for movie buffs, but for other readers it is like looking at a negative instead of at the fully developed picture.-Caroline M. Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Garbo hardly ever laughed, and when she did, it was dubbed; reality is similarly transformed in this quirky, dreamy novel infused with movie mania. A plague of cinematic absorption settles over an Ottawa neighborhood in Hay's latest offering (her debut, A Student of Weather, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize). Harriet Browning's ascetic mother refused her the frivolity of the cinema as a child, and as an adult she views films obsessively. In middle age, she is the center of a small group of cinephiles: her son, Kenny, obsessed with Sinatra, watches classic movies to forget his troubles at school; her daughter, Jane, on the brink of adolescence, longs for the glamorous life; her neighbor and friend Dinah may be attracted mainly by the familial activity of watching together. Lew, Harriet's realist husband, is left out of this loop; his escapes come in the form of business trips to South America. The arrival of Harriet's aunt Leah, the trouble-making widow of a Hollywood screenwriter, and her stepson Jack, a lazy, fast-talking writer, leads to shifts in affections and allegiances. It is illness, however, that brings an end to the movie-watching, in true Hollywood weepy fashion. References to Pauline Kael (beloved by Harriet), top 100 movie lists and a lineup of movie greats (Marlon Brando, Sean Connery and Bette Davis are among the favorites) are as integral to the story as the interactions of its film-besotted protagonists. This is a gracefully written novel, mapping out the patterns of tension and release in a family whose members are best able to express their love and disappointment through the films of the past. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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