Wally Lamb has been one of my favorite authors since I first read “She’s Come Undone” when I was 16 years old. One of my favorite books I’ve ever read is his book, “The Hour I First Believed.” I’ve read all of his books and he never ceases to amaze me with his ability to write female characters that are so brutally honest, complex and real. Lamb’s ability to delve inside the mind of a woman and explore the inner workings of the female psyche is, in my opinion, what sets him apart from other male authors. Lamb always writes his characters in such a way that you truly feel like you know them when you finish the book.
“I’ll Take You There” is different than some of Lamb’s previous works, but his exploration into writing with a more light-hearted tone doesn’t take away from the book’s powerful message and Lamb delivers another incredible story. The novel explore serious themes like parenthood, mental illness, eating disorders, gender inequality, complicated family dynamics, reconciling one’s past, and the impact childhood makes on your adult life.
“I’ll Take You There” tackles these themes in the sincere, heartfelt way that Wally Lamb does so well.
“I’ll Take You There” is about Felix Funicello, whose claim to fame is his relationship to his cousin, the famed Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. Felix is a film scholar whose love for movies stretches back to the early celluloid days of Hollywood. His professional love of film extends to an extra-curricular Monday night movie club which has a handful of dedicated members that Felix enjoys screening films for and later discussing at the old movie theater in the neighborhood that was once a place for vaudeville entertainment. Felix has a cordial relationship with his ex-wife Kat, the staunch feminist, and is very close to his grown daughter Aliza. Aliza’s take on feminism is more modern but is a naturally born writer and having been the product of creative parents has benefited her greatly, and she learned about all types of artistic expression which serve her well in the millennial age and her job writing for New York Magazine. Her relationship with her dad is very open and despite her tendency to overshare some of the details of her life that a father would usually not want to hear, Felix adores his time spent with Aliza and enjoys their frequent phone calls, getting to hear about her life in New York, and also getting to offer some fatherly advice when the situation calls for it.
On what seems like a old regular Monday, Felix heads to the theater where he holds his Monday night movie club to set up the projection booth and ready the films he has decided to screen. While in the projection booth, he suddenly sees a ghostly apparition, which leads him to suspect that he may be having some sort of health crisis, or maybe have been slipped drugs at some point. The ghost, Lois Weber, recognizable to Felix because of his extensive knowledge of Hollywood’s silent film era, was one of the first female directors of film and her legacy has been buried under the more famous male directors of her time. Despite being a pioneer of cutting-edge techniques and well respected among her peers, Lois Weber was never given credit where credit was due because she was a woman in a male dominated industry. The ghost of Lois Weber explains these things to Felix, who is still unsure of how he’s communicating with her, but Felix is thoroughly enjoying learning about the celluloid film era from someone who was there. They discuss the other famous directors, actors, and actresses of the time and Lois is even joined by the ghost of silent film star Billie Dove, who starred in many of Lois’s pictures. When Felix asks Lois why she has shown up to talk to him, she says that he is “educable” and then explains to him that she has brought along some films that will be of special interest to Felix. She explains that the film in the reels she brought along are the movie of Felix’s life. With these reels, Felix will be able to re-live certain points of his life. Still unable to process the information being presented to him, Felix reluctantly follows the instructions given to him by Lois and begins to watch the films of his life.
Felix is taken back to times in his life when he was just a happy boy and his sisters Frances and Simone took him to see Pinocchio which led to his love of movies, and to more painful times when his family was dealing with Frances having a life threatening eating-disorder. Although Felix was just a boy during that time, it isn’t until he re-visits these memories as an adult that he realized the impact of what Frances went through had on him. He’s also taken back to other times in his life and visited by other ghosts that shed light on some of his family’s painful secrets and forces Felix to deal with his emotions regarding them.
With each new encounter with Lois and the films of his life, he learns more about what injustices and prejudices women of all eras have had to deal with in every aspect of their lives which leads him to understand the women in his life in a whole new way, and leads him to understand his life and the choices he’s made from a whole new perspective.
I loved the way Wally Lamb handled Felix’s story and the stories of these women and proves even further that Lamb has an understanding of women and what challenges they face in their every day lives that most men lack. Wally Lamb is a brilliant novelist, able to explore all types of themes and deliver beautiful stories that will resonate with his readers long after the last page is read. As a huge fan of his, I am so glad I was able to read and review “I’ll Take You There” and go on another journey with a master story-teller who continues to prove that he is one of the great novelists of our time.
I absolutely recommend this book to lovers of all genres, because it truly appeals to fans of all.
A new addition to my blog is a rating system to let you guys know how much I liked the book I reviewed in a simpler way. I’ll be rating them by stories: (as in stories in a building) 1 story being a modest one floor home, to 10 being a skyscraper. I may change it, but for now I hope you guys agree that it’s a clever play on the story angle, and I like it a lot!
I give this book 9/10 stories. Not quite the Empire State Building, but still a high rise condominium with a top-floor penthouse.
I hope you guys enjoy my review and it inspires you to pick up a copy of “I’ll Take You There” and read it for yourself.
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