Lillian & Dash: book review


Lillian & Dash by Sam Toperoff. Publisher: Other Press (2013). Historical Fiction. Softcover. 385 pages. ISBN 978-159051568-6.

“That bond, however it is presented and whatever it is called, endured for three decades, contorted, stretched, and strained but unbroken by distance, professional jealousy, countless flings and more serious affairs by each, pathetic need, insult, drink, recrimination, and disappointment.”

What a charming novel that delves into the long affair between playwright Lillian Hellman [Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour] and noir author and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett [The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man]. Theirs was a complicated relationship as Dashiell remained married [and had several children] while Lillian never married. As both writers lived well before my time, I’m only familiar with their work. I’d seen and truly appreciated Hellman’s Little Foxes and The Children’s Hour but knew nothing about her personal life. Of course I’d seen The Maltese Falcon and I’d heard of the popularity of The Thin Man novels and film series but I’ve yet to see them but will at some time. As with Hellman, I knew little to nothing about Hammett.

Author Sam Toperoff makes you feel as if you’re drawn into the midst of a black and white film or at a party with Lillian and Dash. Lillian Hellman– independent, successful, driven – so much so that Dashiell became immensely jealous of her and that drove a wedge between them at various times but they kept coming back to each other. Although she did fine on her own and had plenty of other affairs, Lillian loved something about Dashiell despite his drunkenness, instability and unreliability in later years. The more I read about Lillian, the more interested I became in her writing and her life and the more I wanted to read about her and the less about her relationship with the drunken Dashiell. He just seemed to be a hanger-on, a nuisance. Perhaps when they were younger he had a certain charm or enticing quality but it didn’t stand out in this novel. He never seemed happy for her successes. There’s a plethora of details about their projects, behind the scenes in Hollywood and some political incidents including the Spanish War and McCarthyism. ]. The manner in which Toperoff crafts this novel swept me right up into their Hollywood romance. It’s a treat for those fascinated by Old Hollywood and classic films.

RATING: ****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the Other Press.

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