Author: Linda Morganstein

ISBN: 978-1-935053-2

Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises

Nina Weise is 20, beautiful, intelligent, and connected. One summer break, she travels to California to work with her cousin Elaine, a publicist for some of the brightest stars in cinema. Elaine’s father runs Lumina Studio.

Elaine assigns Nina to handle publicity for Stella Kane, a stunning beauty and rising star. Nina is a quick study in handling logistically tricky promotions and narcissistic personalities. The skills honed as a young girl among the wealthiest families in New England serve her well.

In 1948, Hollywood is struggling. Television is encroaching. A contagion of paranoia grips the country over communists infiltrating all levels of society including the entertainment industry. A resurgence of moral righteousness fuels vigorous film censorship. All sex is taboo. Married couples cannot be shown sleeping in the same bed.

Homosexuality is anathema, of course, condemned as a perversion. The film industry, like all the arts, flourishes because of the contributions made by gay men and lesbian women. In this era of repression, however, homosexuality is never discussed. Coming out means the end of a career. Some of the best and the brightest are forced to live double lives. “It will always be this way,” Hollie said, “This is one thing people won’t accept.”

In the middle of all, Nina finds herself intrigued with her client, the enigmatic Stella. Nina refuses to acknowledge her own stirrings. But Stella knows what’s going on even if Nina doesn’t. Stella is patient.

At summer end, Nina returns to New York where she meets art critic, Sue Edelman. Edelman patiently coaxes Nina to examine her impulses and yearnings, and Nina acknowledges her attraction to Stella. “She’s complicated and impossible. She’s beautiful and unpredictable and unfathomable, and you never know when she’s real and when she’s acting,” Nina complains.

Readers may find Nina’s exasperation understandable. Author Morganstein gives us very little background on the star. Readers are not privy to her thoughts. Upon graduating from Barnard College, Nina returns to California, teams with Elaine again, and circumstances put her with Stella.

The real Stella eventually emerges. Traveling in Ohio, Nina witnesses an encounter between Stella and her stepfather, one of the most powerful scenes in the book. The ambiguity here is intriguing.

She can’t control it, she can’t love it,” the old man warns Nina.

What do you know about love?” Stella spat out.

Who’s gonna live her?” Kubicek taunted. “Who’s not just getting snared up in her? But that’s okay. She’ll take care of everything.”

Stella shouts at the old man to stop and covers her ears. This glimpse of the real Stella stuns Nina who, moved by what she has seen, lets her affections for Stella surge unrestrained.

Nina is assigned the awkward task of promoting Stella and male star, Hollister “Hollie” Carter, as the romantic couple of the season. The hype is to promote the movies the couple is making. When their public relationship culminates in a marriage, an extravaganza staged with stand-in extras playing family roles, the cover for both stars becomes more secure. Nina moves in with them. Hollie is cool with all of it because he now has cover for his boyfriends.

The scurrying about to avoid discovery, the late night calls, rescue trips to the precinct station, exchanged confidences at cocktail parties and threats against reporters could have a comic dimension except it is deadly serious. Stella and Hollie survive by manipulation. Getting by from day to day requires presenting one persona to the public and reserving the real self for the intimacy of private life. The risk, of course, is that the line between the public and the private self becomes blurred. Manipulation creeps into all relationships. Authenticity finally may lose its place in the nurturing of the true self.

The story benefits nothing from the self-indulgent prologue in which Nina proclaims she is a lesbian, a laugher if the author were a guy pronouncing himself as gay. Furthermore, if readers were not so needlessly alerted, they would be more engaged as Nina deals with her sexual awakening.

The last line in the book, “OR WOULD YOU?” asks readers to reconsider whether the epidemic of manipulation, blackmail, lies, entrapments and rumors that were a part of surviving in mid-Century Hollywood have cynically permeated all the relationships and the story itself is a hoax, a parlor trick. Authenticity is risked, in other words. The book would be better with the line struck.

Morganstein is a master. She packs more into one sentence than most writers can into a full paragraph. One minor character she describes as, “Walter was perpetually mystified by his own anonymity.” With such nimble command, readers may wonder why so little is revealed about the major characters.

My Life with Stella Kane is a joy to read. Morganstein knows her Hollywood and spreads tinsel town out for the viewing.

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