Despite the title, Glen David Gold’s latest is a dark but engrossing read. Gold’s acclaimed first novel, Carter Beats the Devil, was a historical novel as well, and this one is, if anything, even more ambitious in scope. Including everything from Bolsheviks to the dramatic origins of the dog who played Rin Tin Tin, this 553-page monster is a wild tear through the U.S. and parts of Europe, beginning in 1916. Charlie Chaplin is the element that holds the plot together, both his life as a celebrity (including an apparently true incident of mass hysteria in which he was seen all over the country on one frenzied day) and Gold’s speculation as to his personal life and inner thoughts. A pair of very different soldiers, one the would-be actor son of a stiff-backed lighthouse keeper, the other a draftee who winds up fighting in Russia, keep the action shifting from Chaplin in Hollywood, to France, to the remote, forgotten Russian front of the Great War.
The scenes in this novel are so varied that it’s next to impossible to pick a representative excerpt. Instead, here’s a 14-minute video from The Guardian. It includes footage from Chaplin’s films, Gold reading several passages from the book, and a conversation between him and Sarah Crown.
And for those curious about US involvement in Russia during World War I, here Gold tells us about a fairly obscure book about the period, which he describes as a cross between Chekhov and Evelyn Waugh: