It was the period in history when the concept of memory changed forever: the invention of the motion picture. No longer would secondhand accounts, drawings, paintings, or song be needed to document history. With the camera, people gained the ability to experience an event long after it had happened, without being there.
Glen David Gold, author of “Carter Beats the Devil”, weaves a complicated tapestry of the birth of the motion picture. It is a historical fiction, so it may become difficult to separate artistic license from reality, but then, that’s one of the points of the story. A handful of protagonists carry a series of interconected stories, chief among them Charlie Chaplin and his struggle to become a bonafide artist.
Through the story, as America expands its military presence around the world, movie studios expand their presence in the farms and hillsides of Los Angeles. It is as if the military is establishing a beachhead worldwide, leading the way for Hollywood and the American Cinema to dominate the twentieth century popular arts scene. There is heartbreak, triumph, love, loss, marriage, divorce, all of the things you’d expect to find in a pastoral such as this.
While the scope of the novel is daunting for any author to tackle, Gold does an admirable job of holding the pieces together. The story gets convoluted at times, but the overall effect, the epanalepsis is the core of the book. Each character is repeatedly dashed against the rocks of history, but they find ways to start again, to keep moving, to search for meaning.
Like many early American films, this book is a profound, if occasionally muddled, marvel to behold.