Monday, June 07, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 124 (6/7) -- Scarlett Takes Manhattan by Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt

It's a truth acknowledged almost as much as it should be that the primary weapons of a young and comely woman are her wits and her body, and even more so her willingness to use them both in concert. Take, for example, Shifra Helfgott, a young spitfire of a redhead born to a single Jewish mother a century or so ago in a city that is never specifically called New York. Left an orphan at eighteen, young Shifra made her way in the world from chambermaid to mistress to streetwalker before finding fame as the fire-swallowing vaudevillian Scarlett O'Hering. (And a place in the bed of her impresario, Daniel D'Lovely, whose story is perhaps even more unlikely than Shifra's -- though Scarlett Takes Manhattan doesn't have space in its few pages to explain Daniel's past or quirks.)

Scarlett's first taste of fame was due to her nudity on the stage, and her second from a combination of her fire-eating and the scarcity of her dress, but her third was less likely (and less well integrated in this story, I must admit.) Scarlett Takes Manhattan has an one-damn-thing-after-another plot, framed as a story told by Scarlett a few years later and featuring events, characters, and backdrops that pop in and out of the story, the reader begins to suspect, just because that's what Molly Crabapple felt like drawing at that moment.

Scarlett, like its main character, is a sexy, never more than half-serious romp through a garish fun-house version of the turn of the last century, with more sex and voluptuous nudity than most sexy stories twice its length and just enough plot to connect the points of its story. I'm sure Crabapple and Leavitt could make a cleaner, more plausible and deeper story if they really wanted to, but they're having so much fun here I almost feel ashamed for raising the point.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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