The first Wally Lamb book I read was She’s Come Undone, which I absolutely loved. I actually read it twice, which is something I rarely do. I’ve also read The Hour I First Believed, and I Know This Much Is True. I was excited to get my hands on I’ll Take You There. He seems to have a knack for great female characters – getting into the minds of women in a way most male writers haven’t, or at least none that I’ve read. Although some of these characters are incredibly flawed, they are still likable and relatable. Delores is the main character of She’s Come Undone, she is one of my favorite characters. In his new book, which is told from the perspective of man named Felix.
Felix Funicello (distant cousin of Anette Funicello, former star of the Mickey Mouse Club) is a super movie fan. He is a college professor, film scholar, and leader of a movie club that meets in an old vaudeville theatre to watch old movies. He is an older man, with one grown daughter, who is a journalist living in NYC. He and his wife don’t live too far outside the city, but the distance is too great for him. They miss her quite a bit, and he is so excited to reconnect over a story assignment she is given to write an article about the Miss Rheingold competition.
Rheingold was a beer that was brewed locally in New York, and at one time was one of the most popular beers in the area. Each year the brewer held a beauty competition to pick Miss Rheingold, and local residents would have the opportunity to vote for their favorite girl. In talking to his daughter about the competition (which in reality crowned 25 Miss Rheingold in between 1940 and 1964), he remembers voting each year with his two older sisters for the girl they wanted to win. It’s also during this time that he’s reconnecting with his daughter that he is visited by two ghosts in the theater his group meets.
These two ghosts are former screen stars – one being one of the most famous silent screen stars that he is a big fan of. They’re not there just to visit though, and don’t need his assistance connecting them with anyone in the in the living world. They’re there, instead, to take him into the past. Through a series of movies (reel to reel, of course), he is able to revisit some of the most important moments of his past. They seem to want to confront himself, or someone else he was close to. This part of the story reminds me a lot of a Christmas Carol.
I really loved this story – and I loved the closeness between Felix and his daughter. This project that she worked on that brought them closer together, and I loved that it included a bit history – something that they were both interested in. With the help of these two ghosts he is able to revisit the past. Through the women in his life, past and present, he gets an important lesson in feminism. The women’s movement has come a long way – and this witnesses some of this change by seeing what his mom, and sisters have gone through.
The story is so beautifully written, and I wanted so much more of Felix. I think there may be a part of Mr Lamb in Felix. Even though their stories are similar, Felix is no Ebenezer Scrooge.