In Perry’s novel, a former actor reflects on life with a Hollywood power couple.
During the O.J. Simpson scandal, Daniel Root learns of the death of mogul Milford “Milly” Langen, whose wife, actress Lillian “Lilly” Sinclair, committed suicide in 1982. Although never an A-Lister, Root enjoyed a brief stint in pictures until the film offers “dried up like the chaparral on the Hollywood Hills.” His stage name was Dexter Gaines—“Dex” to Milly and Lilly—and the trio was together for two years, separating in anger the night Dex almost strangled Milly. Four decades prior, Dex had arrived from Texas determined to be a star, blessed with good looks, a birthmark on his lip (“a bit of bittersweet chocolate”) and shaky hands that he calmed by smoking pot. Dex first encountered Milly and Lilly on New Year’s Eve 1952 and later crosses paths with Cary Grant, Tallulah Bankhead, Tony Curtis and Darryl F. Zanuck, to whom Milly was second-in-command. With the advent of TV, studio heads feared audiences would stay home, but the real drama is in the trio’s affairs and the secrets each kept. Deftly mixing fictional characters with well-known personalities of Hollywood’s Golden Age, this subtly powerful novel is neither slick nor sleazy, and thankfully devoid of caricature. Milly, Lilly and Dex are finely drawn with foibles of the flesh, in a Truman Capote–like piece that may leave readers pining for Bogie and Bacall. At heart, it’s a love story, deeply affecting and tinged with pathos. Granted, the scandalous behavior of the 1950s seems, at present, to be relatively tame, and the big reveals are played less for shock than emotional resonance, though at least one may fail to surprise. In such a dramatic setting, some melodrama is to be expected, but here it’s kept to a minimum. Overall, the narrative is rich in detail, and everything matters in this fully realized world.
A poignant tale of unrequited love and sexual longing, which burns slowly and lingers like cigarette smoke.