Tuesday, October 12, 2021

A Stranger in the Mirror by Sidney Sheldon – a #1976Club mistake

Title: A Stranger in the Mirror
Author: Sidney Sheldon
Publication: William Morrow, hardcover, 1976
Genre: Fiction
Description: Sheldon creates a collision course between two externally attractive and internally vile people whose yearning for acclaim and revenge takes them to Hollywood and the tragic price they pay for their ambition. Toby Temple grew up in 1920s Detroit, making his mother laugh despite her bleak existence by doing impressions and starring in high school productions. She smuggles him out of town when he gets a girl pregnant, and Toby pursues a show business career in New York without much success until he reaches Los Angeles after WWII. His lucky break is when agent Clifton Lawrence sees some talent and finances the development of Toby’s career. Although success follows, Toby has become a bitter vindictive person.

Josephine Czinski comes from a poor family in Texas, with a religious fanatic mother who works for the families Josie goes to school with. Her romance with seemingly-golden boy David Kenyon is doomed, and when she bitterly realizes he has let her down, she heads to Hollywood, changing her name to Jill Castle. Unlike Toby, her career never takes off, despite her beauty and, desperate, Jill does a lot of unsavory things trying to get her break but only gains a bad reputation. When Toby meets her and falls in love, they become a power couple – Jill wants to use this power to destroy anyone who doubted her but if Toby finds out about her past, his pride will require that she be obliterated from his life.

My Impression: Sidney Sheldon had a very distinguished career as a Hollywood writer so I had no warning that this would be the worst book I have read in years. He began writing for the theater after serving in WWII, won awards for musicals Easter Parade and Annie Get Your Gun, and wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer. He also created The Patty Duke Show, about identical twin cousins which I loved as a child, and I Dream of Jeannie which is silly but harmless. If you had asked me, I would have said I expected something like an early Mary Higgins Clark mystery. After all, the NYT called his first book “the best first mystery novel” of 1970.

Instead, I got a sordid Hollywood story with every predictable trope you can imagine, including nonstop mentions that Toby’s popularity with women results from his ahem - size. 
  • Brutal husbands
  • Desperately unhappy wives
  • Religious fanatics
  • An influential spinster foolish enough to believe a younger man’s pretense of affection
  • Pregnant teenagers and shotgun marriages
  • A murderous racist attack on a Hispanic gardener covered up by fawning District Attorneys
  • A teen sent to an insane asylum
  • Mobsters
  • Casting couches
  • And – worst of all – a man who would drug his girlfriend to trick her into performing in a porn movie and provide her real name to make it worse. 
I've probably forgotten a few!  Only spite and misery breathe life in this book. Even the agent who rescues Toby from obscurity and finances his becoming a star is vulnerable:
Clifton Lawrence lay in his bed that night, unable to sleep. He asked himself why he allowed Toby to humiliate him. The answer was simple: money. The income from Toby Temple brought him over a quarter of a million dollars a year. Clifton lived expensively and generously, and he had not saved a cent. With his other clients gone, he needed Toby. That was the problem. Toby knew it, and baiting Clifton had become a blood sport. Clifton had to get away before it was too late.

But he was aware that it was already too late.
Why did I go on reading, you ask? I guess I was a little curious about what would happen and the best thing about the book was that most of the characters got what they deserved. Also, I was in bed when I started reading, and it seemed like too much trouble to go find another book. I suppose I was hoping it would be more like a book that was a big bestseller when I first got into publishing, You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, which was funny.  
This review is for the #1976Club, hosted by StuckinaBook and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, in which bloggers are invited to read and review books that were published in 1976.  

Source: Library – and it’s going back there fast!  However, although I call it a mistake, that doesn't mean it wasn't fun to shred it in my review.  


TracyK said...

This does sound like a really bad book. I don't know anything about Sidney Sheldon's books but I would never have guessed that this one would be so bad.

Great review.

Neeru said...

I read this in college and really liked it because of the poetic justice which was very satisfying.. Sorry you had a bad experience and I wonder how I'd find it today.

CLM said...

Well, I did like the poetic justice, although David turned out to be pretty vile and he didn't seem to get punished enough!

Cath said...

Not for me I think. I don't always go by what other bloggers think as we all have different tastes, but that list of tropes is so off-putting I wouldn't touch it with a barge-pole.

Deniz Bevan said...

Aww, I miss Sidney Sheldon. I read quite a few of his books in my teens, but I don't know if I'd enjoy rereading him (all the cliches and the stilted repetitive writing would probably drive me crazy!).

Thanks for sharing your France trip with us!

LyzzyBee said...

Well, I didn't know about the rest of his career! I always thought he just wrote bonkbusters though and obviously that bit's true. Well done for taking the hit for the 1976 club!

Simon T (StuckinaBook) said...

Oh my word! This sounds truly awful, and very much of its time - so, for that, a valuable contribution to the club!