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I'll Take You There

Review

I'll Take You There

The prologue for I’LL TAKE YOU THERE, Wally Lamb’s sixth novel, invites readers to an easy trip along the Geezerdom parkway. The central character, Felix Funicello, was introduced in Lamb’s previous book, WISHIN’ AND HOPIN’, but he seamlessly brings us up to date. By day, Felix is a professor of film history at Hunter College, and on Monday nights he drives to the Ye Olde Garde Theatre in New London to show movies to a little band of loyal film buffs.

Ye Olde Garde Theatre provides an exquisite setting for the three interlinking stories that Felix tells. It opened in 1926 as a “photoplay” house and vaudeville stage; the interior is Moroccan Revival style, and the lobby is huge with mosaic floor tiles and a grand staircase. Felix pauses as he opens the massive doors to review its colorful history --- he clearly loves the role he plays as teacher and mentor --- when two translucent females appear, “vividly detailed but as insubstantial as cigarette smoke”: Lois Weber, a director of great renown of American film, and Billie Dove, “the American Beauty” who appeared in the “Ziegfeld Follies” and was a popular actress of the ’20s. There are pointed and informative exchanges between the two ghostly women and the very bewildered Felix about the early stages of the movie industry. Lamb has quickly established the central theme of the novel: determining and understanding the unfairness that all women, decades back and at present times, continually face.

"The prologue for I’LL TAKE YOU THERE...invites readers to an easy trip along the Geezerdom parkway. The central character, Felix Funicello, was introduced in...WISHIN’ AND HOPIN’, but [Lamb] seamlessly brings us up to date."

Felix is given a film canister for each year of his life with instructions that he may reenter his life at any stage. He looks at each tin curiously and, just as the unthinkable scenario is becoming real and Lois Weber is fading away, asks, “Why have I been chosen?” Because you’ve been deemed “educable.” Because you grew up with sisters. Because you are the father of a young woman in the fray of modern life. Felix has great potential. And, apparently, there is a need for the pieces of his life to come together.

He chooses to begin with 1959, when he is six years old, and watches some familiar family scenes with his mom and pop, sisters Simone and Frances, and Uncle Ziggy. The novel begins to spread out here, introducing the Rheingold Beer girls from a popular beauty contest of that era, as well as glimpses of children from a neighborhood orphanage. As that segment of the 1959 film ends, Felix’s confusion increases. His reliving of some hateful moments with Frances and the embarrassment she suffers from one of the Rheingold Beer girls is still fresh after more than 40 years. As he switches down the power (leaving only the ghost lights on) and exits the Theatre, he is relieved that all of the other canisters have disappeared.

That evening, he talks with his daughter on the phone once again; she just happens to have finished an article on how the Rheingold Beer marketing bonanza occurred, and she sends it to Felix for his (and our) approval. Her work gives more background on the state of women’s lives in general, and the beauty queen mentality in particular.

When Felix returns to Ye Olde Garde Theatre the following Monday, Ingrid Bergman joins the conversation before he puts in the reel for 1965. He and the ghosts chat back and forth as they watch his family drama continue, and they touch on many feminist issues still in play today. A final connection with the ethereal world of spirits introduces a would-be contestant for one of the Rhinegold Beer extravaganzas, and her earthy, sad story answers the questions that, when I’LL TAKE YOU THERE began, Felix did not know he had.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on November 22, 2016

I'll Take You There
by Wally Lamb

  • Publication Date: November 22, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062656287
  • ISBN-13: 9780062656285