Citizen Reviews: Sunnyside

We continue our occasional series of customer reviews with this review of Glen David Gold’s second novel Sunnyside.

Sunnyside, Glen David Gold’s second novel, is a kaleidoscopic look at American life at the beginning of World War I. It focuses on a young Charlie Chaplin, but Gold successfully interweaves other stories, both true and otherwise, everywhere from Russia to San Francisco. Indeed, when the exquisitely orchestrated San Francisco scene was over, I wanted to stand and applaud.

Gold’s prose is vivid and appropriately cinematic. During the San Francisco scene (which was already registering for me as one extended tracking shot), he writes, “Reverse the angle, and gaze from the platform and into the audience.” Gold is in complete control of our eyes, and he is an outstanding tour guide into his ambitious characters and this troubled time.

Aside from the strand about Chaplin’s personal and professional struggles, my favorite part was the tale of Lee Duncan, a one-time lighthouse worker who wants to be an actor, but ends up, very believably, doing his best to take care of two dogs who have been stranded by the events of World War I.

At times, reading Sunnyside reminded me of what it is like to order an overstuffed sandwich. Sometimes, his sentences and chapters feel like they have too much in them, but even if not every sub-plot gets your full attention, the overall experience is very definitely worth it. Gold even offers a Twain-esque warning that we should not take this all too seriously when he writes that “Any attempt to find a symbol… and give it meaning [is] not just doomed but punished.”

So read Sunnyside, rent a Chaplin movie, and then read Gold’s outstanding debut novel, Carter Beats the Devil (soon to be a miniseries on AMC).

Charles Ellenbogen lives in St. Paul with Kirsten, his wife (who recommends Outliers), Zoė, his daughter (who recommends Bread and Jam for Frances) and Ezra, his son (who recommends any Curious George book–or anything that features trucks).

[Editor’s note: Bread and Jam for Frances is an awesome book. I can still quote lines from it, even though I haven’t seen a copy since I was seven.]