Melting the Snow on Hester Street by Daisy Waugh

In brief: Max and Eleanor are the fading toast of Hollywood in 1929 – but just how did they get there? Secrets abound in their past.

The good: Interesting story, much more than the blurb suggests.

The not-so-good: Several typos, wrong words used (e.g. ‘shoot’ instead of ‘chute’) and wrong headline make me wonder at the ending.

Why I chose it: Looked interesting, so I bought it on my recent holiday.

Year: 2012

Pages: 398

Publisher: Harper

Setting: America

My rating: 7 out of 10

I was captivated by the cover of Melting the Snow on Hester Street browsing in Reader’s Feast, Melbourne. I still haven’t got out of my craze for 20’s era fiction, and I loved the way the cover tagline referenced F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. The blurb suggested the book was about the last golden days of Hollywood, before the great stock market crash of 1929. It’s definitely about that, but so much more. The book also goes into great detail about New York life in the early 1900s and one of the worst industrial disasters in history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Why is this not mentioned on the back? This would be even more likely to draw my interest, as it was only mentioned briefly in another book I recently read, Astor Place Vintage.

So what is this book really about? We open with a scene between Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies, discussing a party to be held at the house of the famous Beecham couple. Max is a noted director and Eleanor is a leading lady actress of both silent and ‘talkie’ films. We start to suspect something might be wrong during the party, as both Max and Eleanor’s lovers attend and there’s a few sticky moments. The day after, Eleanor heads for Reno after receiving a letter in the post – but it’s not divorce she’s after. We then move back in time to a cold, hungry New York and find out how the Beechams got to be the toast of Hollywood. All around them, their dreams are crumbling as the market falls…

I really enjoyed the narrative of this story. Waugh weaves the past and present very well together – I loved how the excess of the 1920s contrasts with the poverty of earlier New York. The description of the Triangle fire was also brilliantly done – it was difficult to read at times, so harrowing were the accounts of the people trying to leave the burning floors. The narrative also moved along at a good pace that maintained my interest to keep reading…and reading! The characters are well drawn, especially Eleanor, who has a cool reserve that only melts as she discusses her time in New York. As I learned more about her, I became more sympathetic towards her. She hasn’t had an easy life, but she needs to hide it in glamorous Hollywood.

I felt that the wonderful story was let down by typos and spelling errors – note that I read a final copy, not an ARC. There are continual references to a rubbish ‘shoot’ first on page 168 – then on page 283 it starts off as a ‘chute’ but changes to a ‘shoot’ in the following sentence. Similarly, there is confusion between ‘principle’ and ‘principal’ on page 222. I’m sure that the gentleman concerned didn’t want to ‘stand on a principal’. (Ouch!) There’s also a picture of The World newspaper after the Triangle fire with the heading, ‘The World newspaper, 1929′ – the Triangle fire was in 1911. These are basic errors and in my opinion, should have been noted corrected before the final print.

I felt these issues lessened my enjoyment in the ending – I’m not sure how ambiguous the person in the big reveal was meant to be. Are we meant to believe it’s the person that everyone thinks it is or someone else? I felt I couldn’t trust the description of them to make a calculated judgement. However, it brought life and love back into Eleanor and Max’s lives, which is a lovely thing.

A very interesting story, told well.


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