commentary: This is my 1977 book for Rich Westwood’s Crime of the Century meme at Past Offences.
John over at Pretty Sinister Books reminded me about this one, saying:
I read it when it first came out when I was a teenager. I thought it was great. I may see it in another light now that forty years have passed. THE FAN is rather unusual for a 1970s book as it’s entirely composed of letters, memos, and notes and was cleverly designed using different letterheads and typefaces for each letter. All before the age of personal computers and digital publishing, of course. So I think that made it rather expensive and time consuming to layout and print. It was turned into a movie (a quasi-musical, no less) starring Lauren Bacall and James Garner.Although there are large areas where our tastes do not overlap at all, every so often there is a book that only John and I seem to have read – and this may be one of them. I too loved this book as a young person, I thought it was very clever, very funny, and rather devastating.
And it stood up well on another reading. It’s the story of Sally Ross, a movie star who is about to do a stage-show on Broadway. She has an ex-husband, (Jake), a terrific assistant, (Belle), good friends, and neighbours who think she’s too noisy. And she has a fan: her biggest fan, an obsessive young man who is about to go over the edge.
The book is very cleverly told through letters – and as John says, it is laid out really well, which is why I have copied the page above rather than typing it out.
The Fan, Douglas, writes to Sally: letters which start out simply being quite keen, and then get more and more deranged. For the first half of the book Sally is unaware, and the reader follows her life as she rehearses, meets a new man, and continues her delightful relationship with her ex-husband, as above. Eventually she realizes something is badly wrong, and that Douglas is threatening her, but by this time it is hard to track him down, and the tension rises: the reader knows far more about Douglas than either Sally or the police. The final pages are terrifying.
The film was not a success, and Lauren Bacall apparently said it was far too gruesome and violent: she wanted it to be a film about an older woman’s life and choices. Bacall was (it becomes ever more apparent) a complete diva, often totally unreasonable, but she may have a point here, though I haven’t seen the film so can’t be too judgemental. The character development via the letters is superbly done – Randall was an excellent writer. He obviously intended there to be a huge and growing contrast between the sunny tone of Sally’s exchanges with her friends, and the sad downward spiral of Douglas’s life. But there were times when you’d just want to ditch the madness plot and hear more about Sally.
As a book of 1977 – it’s very much a time of A Chorus Line and Cabaret on Broadway, of Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett. New York is on its way to being down and out, dirty and dangerous and glamorous, not yet polished up. And the world of musicals and showbiz is going to be hit by AIDS in a few years time, but doesn’t know it yet.
I very much hope John will read this book too, look forward to hearing his views.
There is very little in the way of clothes description in the book, so I found this perfume advert from a 1977 fashion magazine – I feel it gives an idea of Sally’s mystery and charm.