Reviewed by Jody Uy
THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURE
By Melanie Benjamin
448 pp. Delacorte Press.
The lights dim as you hastily make your way up the stairs to find your seat, remembering to double-check your ticket for the right number. You pull down the armrests, settle into your spot, and try to see just how far the chair can go as the trailers start to play—an action-adventure, a romantic comedy, a Disney animation. Then the countdown starts and the opening credits roll while you either tense or relax (it’s always the former for me) in preparation to immerse yourself into a new world, a new story flashing on the big screen.
Easily one of the best things about both movies and books is their ability to transport you to a whole new life. While you sit in a cinema, your mind is brought elsewhere in the same way books transport your cozy pajama-wearing self to a different universe. In The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin, we are introduced to a time where couch potatoes and Netflix and Chill are a part of the far, distant, and unimagined future. Set in the early 1900s, the novel follows the lives of two important figures in the world of movies: Frances Marion, a two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter, and Mary Pickford, hailed as America’s first sweetheart actress.
As I mentioned, the best thing about books and movies is that they bring you to an entirely new universe. The amazing thing about The Girls in the Picture, however, is the realization that this new world is actually the one we live in. The book is a historical fiction, which means that the plot thickens in the same up and down way that life naturally does. Events occur as they have happened in history and are an uncanny reminder that absolutely anything can happen in our seemingly normal and boring lives. The two women from extremely different backgrounds and with different temperaments form an unlikely and inspiring friendship that leads to an amazing legacy.
The novel can tend to drag on at certain parts, however, on top of being a rather lengthy read. It isn’t a heart-stopping one-sitting page-turner but more of a quieter read for coffee shop breaks—sort of like a series you patiently wait each week for new episodes to be released. Each chapter is written in either Fran’s or Mary’s point of view, giving readers a slice of each side of the cake. Their characters jump off the page and are presented in lengthy explorations of their thoughts, actions and motivations. There are instances, however, that dialogue can come across as over the top and a bit forced (in a mushy and lovey-dovey way). While this may satisfy the romance-hungry reader, it can appear as unrealistic and unnecessary at times. Despite this, however, the novel shines in its ability to picture the worries and hardships of the industry at that time. Being women, the two leads share in the harsh stereotypes and expectations of their gender, as well as in their spunky resistance to these norms.
A great window to the past, the book invites us into the world of movies before they were known as such. We meet two women who paved the way for compelling stories to be played and replayed on the screen with popcorn in hand (or in convenient cup holder). Their stories are weaved into a history lesson on the how’s and who’s of movies, along with a smattering of feminist fist bumps that leave readers sitting in awe at the amazing way we manage to evolve and innovate as time flows forward.
The Girls in the Picture is now available at Fully Booked stores. To reserve a copy, email us at email@example.com.
Jody is currently an undergraduate student taking up Education and is discovering everyday the greatest bits about reading and learning that fuel our thinking. When she’s not drowning in readings for class, she drowns herself in music, books, and the wonders of the Internet. You can find her on Instagram @ohfishness.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]