cover image The Girls in the Picture

The Girls in the Picture

Melanie Benjamin. Delacorte, $28 (422p) ISBN 978-1-101-88680-9

Benjamin (The Swans of Fifth Avenue) escorts readers through the rise and fall of Hollywood’s silent film era by following a friendship and creative collaboration that helped birth the earliest movies: the fruitful, testy bond between the “scenarist” and eventual screenwriter, Frances Marion, and Mary Pickford, a troubled early star. The novel is framed by a reunion late in their lives, in 1969, but focuses on the 1910s and ’20s: Marion’s and Pickford’s meeting, initial closeness and collaboration, marriages and tragedies, and diverging fates in Hollywood. Chapters alternate between the two women’s perspectives—Marion’s sections (written in first person) buzz with her idiosyncratic understanding of her place within the silent film industry, but Pickford’s (puzzlingly, in third person) are used to move the narrative forward and feel lackluster in comparison. Benjamin’s prose and particularly her dialogue are flatly contemporary; conversations between characters lack period nuance, and, while Marion’s and Pickford’s protofeminism is based on substantial research, it is telegraphed mainly in clunky 21st-century sound bites: “[men] felt that a woman among them was an aberration of nature... and assumed I was there for one purpose only.” However, the heady, infectious energy of the fledgling film industry in Los Angeles is convincingly conveyed—and the loving but competitive friendship between these two women on the rise in a man’s world is a powerful source of both tension and relatability. Agent: Laura Langlie, Laura Langlie Agency (Jan.)