Book Review: The Memoir of Johnny Devine by Camille Eide
Ashberry Lane Publishing
In 1953, desperation forces young war widow Eliza Saunderson to take a job writing the memoir of ex-Hollywood heartthrob Johnny Devine. Rumor has it Johnny can seduce anything in a skirt quicker than he can hail a cab. But now the notorious womanizer claims he’s been born again. Eliza soon finds herself falling for the humble, grace-filled man John has become—a man who shows no sign of returning her feelings. No sign, that is, until she discovers something John never meant for her to see.
When Eliza’s articles on minority oppression land her on McCarthy’s Communist hit list, John and Eliza become entangled in an investigation that threatens both his book and her future. To clear her name, Eliza must solve a family mystery. Plus, she needs to convince John that real love—not the Hollywood illusion—can forgive a sordid past. Just when the hope of love becomes reality, a troubling discovery confirms Eliza’s worst fears. Like the happy façade many Americans cling to, had it all been empty lies? Is there a love she can truly believe in?
My Take in 3 Parts
Ms. Eide had me at 1953, and really won me over with the reality of Eliza's plight and her determination and pluck to continue writing, even though her topics about racial, ethnic, and gender oppression were considered subversive for the era. The Memoir of Johnny Devine superbly captures the raw emotions and fears bubbling so near the surface in the early 1950s, all because the 'red scare' was sweeping through the US like a flash flood, snatching at the innocent along with the guilty.
Communism and social issues both play a large role in this novel, perhaps uncomfortable to some, but also very real and necessary to understanding how events like the Salem Witch Trials and the 'red scare' could ever happen. Fear is a great motivator and paranoia is often birthed from that same fear.
However, don't suppose that just because Ms. Eide's latest deals with such somber topics that it's a book without humor, because it is awash with good humor and entertainment. I love the 1920s through the 1950s and so I loved the realism of the era captured on the page. But also, I admit this novel also chipped a little of the rose colored lenses I wear regarding earlier eras. Life wasn't perfect, neither were the people. Perhaps those happy little lives and marriages we see captured in such shows as I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best really go only skin deep, not even scratching the surface of reality.
The Memoir of Johnny Devine will make you think, if nothing else.
I'm drawn to damaged characters. Eliza Saunderson was deeply scarred by her husband's infidelity and cruelty. When he died in the war, her first reaction was relief, followed by guilt. Now she spends her days writing articles about oppression and struggles with serious trust issues, especially when her older sister keeps pushing her to remarry because she's not getting any younger and marriage is the only respectable occupation for a woman. She's a sympathetic character with strong passions toward the downtrodden and I can connect to those things.
As for Johnny Devine, I believe firmly that anyone can be redeemed. John hides nothing while he's writing his memoir. He was a louse and a scoundrel with more sexual partners than you can shake a stick at. But that's not the man he is now, and I loved seeing how God changes lives. I've found throughout my life that a lot of Christians try to pretend that their lives are perfect, when in reality, we're all sinners, neither better or worse than Johnny Devine and his string of lovers and self-indulgence. He has no arrogance about his salvation because he knows Who did the raising up and renewal of his life. His is a beautiful and heart-rending story of redemption.
Millie and Duncan, John's servants, are both dear souls, especially Millie who reaches out to Eliza and helps her realize the compassion and forgiveness of a heavenly Father. All of the characters, even the ones I despised, even the ones like Eliza's sister Betty who is one of the naggiest women on earth, felt genuine.
I am absolutely over the moon when it comes to Camille Eide's writing! Her work is fresh and original, with an authentic voice of realism that makes me feel all the things I should be feeling, without the sensation that I'm being prodded there by artifice. I wish all writers possessed her same mastery of voice for truly, Ms.Eide's work is a cut above the rest in my book!
My Final Thoughts
Every time I pick up one of Ms. Eide's novels, I'm reminded anew of how much I love her work. I never imagine it possible for me to love her next book more than the one I just read, but it always happens! Crazy, I know, but there you have it. She is now of my favorite authors, who I will continue to treasure and whose works I will continue to read for as long as she writes. I encourage anyone who loves "real" fiction and who yearns to be divinely touched by an author's writing, reminded of God's faithfulness, to give Camille Eide's books a try, be it this one, or Like There's No Tomorrow or Like a Love Song (review to be written at some point).
Also, I must mention that the end of The Memoir of Johnny Devine happens at Christmastime, which is why I'm adding it to my Christian fiction list. :)
And I'm adding my casting choices for this story just for kicks! James as John, Joan as Eliza, Louise as Millie, and Bette as Betty (funny how that one just sort of fell into place). :)