I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb
Published by Harper
From the publisher:
I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.
In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.
Against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic convergence of politics and pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the pressures and trials of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and feminist realities that all women, of every era, must face.
Okay, so I like the idea of what Lamb has done here. We have a feminist man who truly loves and respects all of the women in his life, who sees them as independent from their relationship to him (for example – his daughter is not just his daughter, she’s this independent, incredibly smart, talented person who he admires AS A PERSON not just as his daughter), who gets a rare peek into aspects of their lives that he never really considered before. I like that Lamb, who clearly has a ton of respect for women and I would hope considers himself a feminist, decided to explore the topic of the difficulties that women face simply for the fact of being born with a vagina and explore it through the eyes of these fictional characters. As I said, I like the idea here. I was definitely looking forward to the book.
I would say that the actual execution of Lamb’s great idea was successfulish. By that I mean, I liked the book well enough but I certainly didn’t love it, and overall thought the feminism contained within was fairly benign and the main character didn’t have much in the way of revolutionary thoughts or any real lightbulb moments, if you will. The start of the book was incredibly slow for me and I almost put it down a few times – in fact, I would have given up on it had it not been my book club read. However, once I got going and the book started delving into Felix’s past, my interest was piqued and I sped through the second half of the book in a matter of a couple of hours.
A good chunk of the book was focused on Felix’s older sister, and for fear of spoilers, I won’t explain why but let’s juts say that his fairly average looking family had its share of secrets and those are revealed through the portions of the book about his sister. She was actually the character I was most drawn to, even though she’s portrayed in a pretty negative light in the beginning of the book, Lamb carefully crafts the picture of her life and makes it very clear to readers why she’s got the hard edges to her personality that make her seem unlikable on the surface. I really felt for her and it made me immensely happy to see Felix begin to understand her and feel for her in a way he seemingly never did before this little adventure of his.
While I liked I’ll Take You There, I didn’t love it, and I think it’s probably Lamb’s least successful novel. Most of his books are sweeping, all-encompassing, emotional stories with tons of characters and complicated stories, and this was a much simpler, more relaxed novel. I guess it’s a departure for Lamb and shows a different side to his writing, but for me personally I like his other stuff much better. Still a fun read, just nothing to write home about compared to what kinds of masterpieces I know this author is capable of creating.