The Girls in the Picture
By Melanie Benjamin
Hardcover, 422 pages
2018, Delacourt Press
Thank you to Wunderkind PR for sending me this book for free in exchange for my honest review.
From the book: A novel of the close friendship and fascinating creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female legends: screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford, who persevered through daunting challenges in an industry and an era dominated by men – and triumphed.
This book covers the lives and careers of Marion and Pickford from about 1914 to 1969. If you’re into historical fiction set in ‘Old Hollywood’, then this is the book for you.
The story follows two determined women as they branch into film – a new world for everyone involved – and set the bar high for those who follow in their footsteps. It even touches on the birth of ‘talkies’ and how that affected silent film stars and the studios that produced their movies. I’d heard of Pickford prior to reading the book, but really knew nothing about her life. It feels like Benjamin did a fair amount of research into the period and these women’s lives.
After coming out of the bizarre journey that was the Southern Reach trilogy, I was craving something a little more grounded. I was engrossed almost immediately; not really a surprise though, as I’ve loved every book Benjamin has written.
The journeys these women went on, both in their personal lives and their careers had me hooked. As usual, Benjamin paints her characters realistically and flawed, which helps make her work so readable. I loved Frances and was ‘rooting’ for her the whole time – I wanted her to succeed in Hollywood and break ground as a female scenarist (screenwriter.) Mary, while less relatable, and at times less likeable, was no less interesting. Her career and her passion and devotion to it ruled her life. Even though I didn’t always like the choices she made or the way she treated Frances, I could understand why she did what she did.
I had no idea how much these two women (among others of their time) paved the way for future film stars, writers and directors. They had to fight every step of the way to carve out their place in Hollywood and then keep it. It made me want to watch some silent films and some of the earlier talkies. It was so interesting to read about the beginning of films and think about how much it has changed.
I found a surprising amount of relatable quotes and I think there are quite a few scenes that echo the struggles women in the workforce (and Hollywood, I assume) still face today. I’m just going to bombard you with them.
“He was just another small man afraid of an intelligent woman – the world was full of such fools. Yet my future was held in this particular fool’s overmanicured hands.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m less of a woman because I love my work so much, because it’s all I want to talk about, think about. We’re not supposed to do that, are we? We women. We’re not supposed to love something more than we’re capable of loving a man.”
“Complicated. Isn’t it? Men can be in love and it doesn’t affect anything else they do; it gives them even more cachet. It adds something to them. But for women, love doesn’t add, it subtracts. Why do I feel as if falling in love means I have to give something up?”
“I was now sitting up straight, my hands balled into fists, all fired up with anger; anger at all the unrealistic expectations, assigned roles imposed upon us; roles and expectations we had no part in choosing.” (Not just applicable to females, but to basically everyone today.)
“I don’t want that – to be full of regret when I’m older. I think that’s the thing I’m most afraid of, actually – to look back with regret, to think of all the things I didn’t do.” (HARD SAME.)
“…funny, how we think it’s up to others to say yes or no when really, we’re our own gatekeepers…”
“We remembered these identical experiences differently – but that didn’t make them any less truthful. Two people could look at something – like this photograph – and see two different stories.”
The ending was both bittersweet and hopeful and, as always, I’m looking forward to more from Benjamin (lucky for me I have an ARC waiting in the wings.) She’s definitely my favorite ‘modern historical fiction writer,’ which is a term I’m pretty sure I just made up. But anyway, her work is fabulous and I love it!
I recommend this for:
+ Fans of Old Hollywood historical fiction, especially if you enjoyed Evelyn Hugo
+ Fans of Marion and Pickford
+ Anyone looking for some lady-centric fiction