We start out in that beloved setting of the 1930s, the New York tenement block. Lucille O'Malley lives with her large family in a tiny set of rooms. Her father suffers from shellshock due to his service in the Great War, and when he has an "episode," he beats them all up. Because, as you know, all Irish men beat women. Hmm. Anyway, Lucille's mother is a saint, managing her husband, corralling the kids, and taking in washing to keep the family in food and clothing. Lucille is very specific that her mother has talent and only takes in the most delicate pieces because she can charge more for them; this is a way to allow Lucille access to rich ladies and those of the demimonde whom she would normally never see. Like the faded stage actress to whom Lucille delivers peignoirs and other unmentionables and mocks for being deluded and bony. On her way home, she has a choice: she could go the long way round or take a shortcut through the dark alleys of Depression-era New York.
What do you think she does?
Sigh. She takes the evil shortcut and walks right into a mob hit. Good job, Lucille! The mobster, a young man named Salvatore Benedetto, tells her that if she stays quiet, she'll have anything she wants. They lie to a passing policeman, after which the mobster quickly slits Lucille's throat so she'll never say anything again.
Wait. That's not what happens?
OF COURSE NOT. Lucille is the heroine of our story, so she's sent to a posh hotel, kept on the mobster's dole, and eventually sent out to Hollywood to make a name for herself as an actress, as that was the true wish of her heart. Ostensibly, this is so she can be famous and make money for her family, but it appears that she drops them at the first opportunity rolls around to become an actress. Because, of course, our super-special snowflake is chosen for a role out of the thousands of girls vying for fame and fortune in Hollywood.
Meanwhile, ultra rich scion, pretty boy, and pushover Freddie Van Der Waals proposes to his girlfriend because he is suffering from Newland Archer Complex and is completely willing to sacrifice personal happiness for marrying a manipulative airhead who loves his money, not him. This puzzles him. He spends all this time at his birthday party wondering why his fiancée is talking about all the things they'll have instead of proclaiming her eternal love for him, etc.
Gee whiz, kiddo. You are really, really, really sheltered.
For some reason (the reason was obviously invented to get the "plot" moving along ha ha ha), Freddie goes upstairs to his father's office and eavesdrops on a conversation between his best friend (who is a Poor Industrialist's Son) the Poor Industrialist, and Dear Ol'Dad. Turns out that Dad kept his fortune during the stock market crash via illegal ventures (insert ironic horrified gasp here) and ruined the much smaller fortune of this man. Guns are drawn, people are threatened, and Freddie's OMG FRIENDS 4 EVR relationship with his best bud is shattered.
Cut back to Lucille. Against all odds, she catches the eye of a director in a screentest and recieves her very own Effie Trinket to turn her into a bona fide glam star. She becomes Lulu Kelly, gets her hair bobbed, and goes through the early 1930s version of a makeover montage.
Cut back to Freddie. Having renounced his family name and fortune, he decides to become a hobo and ride the rails with other tramps.
Sigh. So now this is The Thin Man meets Sullivan's Travels? Thankfully, Freddie's taken under the wing of a friendly, ethical hobo who teaches him the rules of the rails and how to be A Poor. This is mildly better than Sullivan's cinematic conversion on the matter of laughter and being poor when he realizes that he makes poor black people happy when he makes funny movies, and they Save Him.
But this review isn't about Sullivan's Travels! Sorry!
Lulu's making movies, trying to score her real big break into stardom, but things are going so hot on set. There's lots of catfighting, la la la, and she picks up a wire-haired terrier (ASTA!). Look, just stop reading and go watch The Thin Man. It's ridiculously funny, witty, and a much better use of your time. Along with a new pup, she also snags Freddie out of a bread line to play a part in her movie. During filming she accidentally shoots her rival with real bullets! Oh noes! Who could have done this? Could it have been ... SAL, who's lurking around the film set and arranges to have Lulu off the hook if she becomes his girl?
Le sigh. You know, the writing here is pretty decent, but if teens aren't familiar with 30s film and argot, they might think that it's tacky or overwrought. However, logically, the story just didn't hold together for me. Let's rewind.
Like I said: what are the chances that a mobster who just killed a man would let the witness live because she's sorta pretty in that unwashed-tenement-masses way? Why would Freddie propose to Violet at age 17 when he still has to go to college? Why does the author keep bringing up the fact that Freddie shows up to his own birthday party in morning dress? I mean, I get that it's a breach of societal code, but what do we learn? Is this supposed to make us believe that Freddie is some sort of rebel? Ooh, didn't put on his top hat and tails--must be a social revolutionary!
I just deleted a ginormous paragraph about the plausibility of Duke Ellington playing at Freddie van der Waals birthday party because I'm no jazz scholar and don't have the time to become one. However, the reference to Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz" led me to discover that Taco's synth version prominently featured blackface, and now I want to bleach my brain.
And if the authors are going to reference certain movies so often, what's the point of this book? For me, an homage has to be witty, sharp, and sly. Girl About Town is none of these.
P.S. Freddie is also raised by a boxer named Mugsy.
ARC received from Edelweiss.