“DO TELL” by Lindsay Lynch (Doubleday, 353 pages, $28).
In Lindsay Lynch’s sparkling, sharp debut novel “Do Tell,” a hard-working artist weighs her friendships with A-list stars against her own aspirations. Edith “Edie” O’Dare came to Hollywood in the 1930s to become a star herself. Those dreams seemed within reach until another red-headed actress named Rita Hayworth eclipsed her potential.
With her seven-year contract coming to an end, Edie decides to make a name for herself in another role. That is, she becomes the gossip columnist for a Los Angeles newspaper, securing herself a small desk and cold shoulders from her more serious colleagues. Little do they know that Edie herself is at the center of a serious scandal.
This novel is divided into two acts, with the first half focusing on the sexual assault of a teenage actress. Like Edie, Sophie Melrose arrived in Hollywood full of excitement. Her fire is quickly put out by a notorious bully named Freddy Clarke. Well, notorious to his peers. Unbeknownst to those in the know, Freddy is a huge idol, making housewives across the United States swoon – and making his studio FWM a ton of money. It’s no surprise that the studio is closing ranks around him and forcing their most renowned talent to do the same.
Lindsay Lynch will discuss “Do Tell” at The Book & Cover, 1310 Hanover St., on Wednesday, July 19 at 7 p.m. The ticketed event costs $30, which includes a copy of the book. Find a ticket link on thebookandcover.com.
Lynch is particularly adept at exposing the power of the Hollywood studio system. Actors and actresses were told what to wear and say and who to marry. Even the most successful stars only crossed executives at the risk of ending their careers. Nevertheless, an intrepid ghost does, and in some ways this is Charles Landrieu’s story, even if told by someone else.
Charles is a former stuntman who has been plucked from his behind-the-scenes role and thrust into the spotlight. Having lost his southern accent and rougher edges, he rivals Freddy in popularity. But the public quickly turns against him, perhaps because of suspicions about his parentage. The censorship likes to give him a hard time for actions that don’t raise eyebrows when performed by a lighter-skinned actor. Seb, the alcoholic brother of Charles, Sophie and Edie, gives ‘Do Tell’ a dark edge despite the often witty prose. This is a clear look at the exploitative systems that function in the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood.
There is a risk in historical fiction that characters are overly modernized. Lynch avoids that misstep, making Edie a product of her time in this well-researched story. While her brother may frown on her questionable ethics, they make sense in a certain light. In some ways this novel feels modern, but only because conditions for women in show business and beyond haven’t improved enough. Freddy Clarke’s trial against Sophie Melrose feels eerily familiar. As the judge, jury, and attorney focus on a few glasses of champagne and chaste kisses with an age-appropriate beau, it’s hard not to think about the frustrating question that often circulates in sexual assault cases: What was she wearing?
“Do Tell” reads like an unapologetic memoir in many ways. It blurs genres, comfortable in historical and literary fiction with a down-to-earth narrator who sounds credible as a successful gossip columnist. Exonerating herself for her role in Sophie’s story, Edie directs her razor-sharp tongue at the readers: “A big part of what I do is tell America what they want to hear.” A quick look at the media frenzy surrounding Johnny Depp’s trial against Amber Heard confirms the bleak wisdom of this statement. It’s tempting to call “Do Tell” timely, but the chilling truth is that it feels timeless.
“Do Tell” is Lynch’s debut, but she is no stranger to the literary world. She purchases books from Parnassus Books in Nashville and has written for The Atlantic, Lit Hub, and other prominent publications. In an essay on letterpress for Chapter 16 (she interned at HatchShow Print), she writes, “I try to pretend I’m not a materialist, but there’s one major exception to my minimalist fantasy: big, beautiful, smelly books.” When she wrote this ode to books, did Lynch know that her own books would one day end up on her overflowing bookcases?
Lynch shows us that #MeToo issues have long plagued Hollywood, with or without those infamous studio systems. There’s a memorable scene where Edie washes off her stage makeup and struggles to wipe off every last bit of foundation. She pushes against her skin until she can see the real version again. This could be a metaphor for the whole book. What’s under the designer dresses, expensive jewelry and caked-on mascara? It may not be pretty. With its insider-outsider narrator and dazzling cast of characters, “Do Tell” shares a kinship with “The Great Gatsby.” Glamor cannot keep tragedy at bay for long.
For more local book reports, visit Chapter16.org, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee.
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