Beauty and the Brain
Each time I choose books to review I look for a couple that will offer something different. That’s where Beauty and the Brain comes in. The beauty is Brenda Fitzpatrick, a silent movie actress who falls for a scholarly yet handsome professor named Colin Peters. The year is 1907 and the film crew is in the San Bernardino Mountains of California working on a silent movie called Indian Love Song. There are plenty of innovative elements here if you’re looking for a change of pace.
Colin has been hired for the summer as an assistant to the director. He’s there to help make sure they get the facts straight and faces an uphill battle. No one seems to care that the movie takes place in the Dakotas, which would call for the tribe to be Sioux; the script instead says they’re Apache and the men brought in to play the part are Navajo.
Brenda is drawn to Colin because of his intelligence and knowledge. She was forced to end her schooling at a very young age and is constantly striving to educate herself when the opportunity presents itself. Her approach to Colin is met with skepticism. He doesn’t believe this beautiful, successful actress has any real desire to talk to him and is convinced she must have some ulterior motive.
Colin’s skepticism about Brenda’s motives and his frustration about how the movie is proceeding are all-consuming for him, and they overshadow his positive character traits for the first half of the book. This guy is almost always, (to use his own words) angry, irate, or furious (page 187). He’s glaring at her on page 60, he’s not enjoying himself on page 90, on page 130 he’s feeling crabby and depressed, exasperated beyond all bearing a few pages later, etc. Brenda is also stuck in some sort of repetitive development syndrome. She’s attracted to Colin, both physically and intellectually, so she’s either admiring his physique or wanting to learn from him – when she’s not mad at him for being so irritable.
While all this arrested development is happening to the protagonists, the story is likewise suffering. There’s just not much happening. They film a bit of the movie, play some baseball, have a few meals and that’s about it. It’s only when Colin’s brother suddenly appears at the hotel that the book starts to take off. George’s arrival acts as a catalyst for the plot and the relationship and that makes for a very welcome change.
Suddenly Colin and Brenda are having scenes that actually lead somewhere. It wasn’t until I began truly enjoying their interactions in the second part of the book that I realized how flat they were in the first part; they could well have been any of the one-dimensional characters that Colin so despises in the movie they’re making. Colin still has his ornery moments and Brenda still has an occasional lapse, but the majority of their dialogue no longer focuses on these aspects. They talk and think about how they’ve been shaped by their backgrounds and they delve into their own relationship.
So was I glad I went for something a little different with this book? In the end, my answer would have to be a tentative yes. The unusual setting and characters made me want to keep reading even during the repetitive parts, and the ultimate payoff in the stronger second half made this a book just slightly better than average.
|Review Date:||September 4, 2001|