With contemporary fiction's addiction to the first-person narrator comes the need of writers of one gender to adopt the voice of someone of the other gender. To do this convincingly is not so simple. Nor is it always easy to determine why women sound like women and men sound like men. But it can be obvious when the job is being done well. It would be a useful exercise for fledgling (or even experienced) novelists to scrutinize Remember Valerie March and to figure out just what Katherine Albert is doing right.
Remember Valerie March by Katherine Albert. Simon and Schuster (1939), 313 pp.
A movie director recalls his relationship with a movie star. In the 1920s he sees in her a deep emotionality that sets her apart from the hundreds of aspiring actresses in Hollywood. He puts in a good word for her and she soon achieves success as a “jazz baby” in silent films. A few years later she restarts his career by demanding that the studio hire him to direct her first talking film. She emerges as a serious actress, he as her mentor. The story recounts the ups and downs of her professional and romantic life---and the vicissitudes of their relationship.
This is one of the most successful Hollywood insider novels. Neither a satire nor an exposé, it tells a familiar story with detail and dispassion. All the characters are motivated by self-interest, but their behavior never strays from the normal. Lies and betrayals seem to be just part of doing the movie business. The unsettling nature of the relationship between the star and director is neatly hidden by the first-person narrative and only becomes obvious late in the book. The author gets extra points for her use of the narrator. Seldom has a writer of one gender so believably told a story from the viewpoint of the other. A fluid style and a quickly moving story make the book easy to read. The story may, incidentally, be based on the life and career of Janet Gaynor.