All The Stars in The Heavens – the bio-novel of Loretta Young’s life as only Adriana Trigiani could imagine. Hollywood at its best?
Regular “Bookin’ with Sunny” readers already know that I enjoy reading and reviewing novels based on real people’s lives. A number of such stories, featuring men and women of renown, have recently appeared. Adriana Trigiani’s All the Stars in the Heavens fits into this category, although her use of historical figures differs from the normal pattern. Trigiani’s bio-novel stars Hollywood’s Loretta Young, a young actor who starred in films throughout the 1930s, then found further stardom hosting a widely viewed 1950s television show. Young’s co-star in All the Stars in the Heavens is an Italian woman who fictionally serves as Young’s secretary and factotum for most of their lives.
Neither woman is real, however. Alda apparently is a figment of Trigiani’s imagination, a common novelistic device used to facilitate a unique view of a well-known figure. But Trigiani’s Loretta Young isn’t real, either. Instead, she is a romanticized version of the actual Hollywood star. Her flaws are obfuscated, her foibles sanitized, and her traumas minimized. She floats through the pages of All the Stars in the Heavens exactly like a star, above the fray, dipping into scenes, musing, contemplating, rationalizing, and then gliding away.
The book cover of this novel raves about the Hollywood portraits featured in its pages, actors like Spencer Tracy, David Niven, and Clark Gable, actors like Norma Shearer, Myrna Loy, and Carole Lombard. I’d like to coin a word to describe what happened when I met these men and women, however. The connection, it seemed to me, was “tinsillated.” Each is arrayed in tinsel, a shiny shimmer that obscures the real person. Just as Loretta Young is glamorized, so are they. The male actors, in particular, superficially glow.
Moreover, their stories are idealized, too. One example will suffice. Common gossip always said that, while in her twenties, Loretta Young gave birth to a baby fathered by Clark Gable while the couple was filming The Call of the Wild. As an adult, Judy Lewis wrote about her mother and her unacknowledged father in a tell-all memoir, Uncommon Knowledge. The Loretta Young portrayed in Lewis’s account most certainly is not the Loretta Young of All The Stars in the Heavens. Rather, Trigiani’s protagonist is the woman who might have been, had she not been deeply flawed.
That is true of her other characters, too. Throughout her novel, she emphasizes each person’s angelic side. When mistakes are made, Trigiani makes excuses. And sometimes, she even erases the mistakes, revising the truth in ways that make her heroines and her fellows look better, poignant and moral adults who always try to do the right thing. All the Stars in the Heavens is unlike most bio-novels in that it never imagines what might have been the underlying truths of its real-life protagonists’ behaviors. Rather, it is the story of what might have been had the principals been different (and better) people.
As I neared the close of All the Stars in the Heavens, pondering what I might say about this strangely unsatisfying novel, I came to the nail in the coffin. Trigiani’s Clark Gable dies while filming The Misfits in Arizona. Wrong! As any Renoite knows, The Misfits was filmed on location in Nevada; shortly after the shoot had finished, Clark Gable died in California. I know that’s a petty revision of what really happened, but it typifies the flights of imagination that characterize every page of All the Stars in the Heavens.
I might conclude, however, by acknowledging that I am in the minority. Most reviewers have been enthusiastic about this very popular novel, repeating such caveats as, “I prefer the story I read.” Many readers, it seems, prefer not reality but dreams. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Adriana Trigiani: The Shoemaker’s Wife; The Good Undone; Lucia, Lucia; Very Valentine; Big Stone Gap; Big Cherry Holler; Brava Valentine; Time After Time; Kiss Carlo