The Disenchanted Shows Nothing Destroys Like Success

Shep Stearns  is thrilled when studio mogul Victor Milgrim pairs him with his hero to turn Shep’s movie concept into a Hollywood blockbuster.

Pulitzer-winning novelist Manley Halliday hasn’t produced a book in years. He is over his eyebrows in debt, diabetic, and hanging on to sobriety by his fingernails.

Shep doesn’t know any of that. To him, Manley is the epitome of youthful success, an embodiment of the beautiful life Shep wants for himself.

Unwittingly, Shep provides an audience for Manley’s recollections of his life as a  ’20s celebrity and gives him enough booze to ruin both their screenwriting careers.

Manley is a fictional amalgum of the big name writers of the 1920s when the cult of celebrity —idolizing the famous for being famous — began. Budd Schulberg’s allusions to writers, actors, politicians who were household words in the years between the great wars make The Disenchanted feel more like creative nonfiction than novel.

The novel suggests dozens of reasons why promising writers don’t fulfill their promise, but concludes “there is never a simple reason for not writing a book or not writing your best.”

Schulberg’s plot is packed with Hollywoodish implausabilities, but Schulberg’s depictions of the would-be writer and the has-been writer make the book can’t-put-down reading.

The Disenchanted
by Budd Schulberg
Random House, 1950
Viking Compass Edition, 1975, with new introduction by the author
388 pages
1950 bestseller #10
My grade B+
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni
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