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A-SilverScreenBel Murphy is a suburban Rhode Island widow in her early 90s, hunched and smelling of rosewater. But once she was the glamorous, curly-haired Isabel Maher, a pre-talkie starlet who left Hollywood to wed her insurance salesman boyfriend and raise kids. Howard’s novel—the third in a series of four tied to the seasons—unfolds the summer Bel dies, jumping between the present, the epoch of Bel’s career, and her days as a young wife and mom. In the wake of Bel’s death, her pear-shaped daughter, her failed priest son, and the neighbor girl Bel mentored contemplate how this magnetic woman carved their lives.
Viking. 244 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670033588

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The Silver Screen is a lovely meditation about the fragile bond between parents and children and about having the courage to take second chances. But more than this, it is about the choices we make, the compromises that result and the lies, both spoken and unspoken, that we keep to maintain the peace." June Sawyers

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"One of the central mysteries of the novel is why Isabel Maher left her career to return to her old boyfriend, marry him and choose a life of bland domesticity. … How it all plays out is Howard’s genius at work." Valerie Ryan

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Then there are the gorgeous webs of reflection and connection she weaves around her characters and their times. True, they can hamper movement, but putting aside the sweep of Howard’s theme, which alone would make Silver Screen a work of desolate illumination, they add a whole store of individual discoveries." Richard Eder

Philadelphia Inquirer 3 of 5 Stars
"Baggage from the past clutters the present, and too often the expectations of others define lives. … Early on, Howard’s narrative raises questions and shrewdly delays explanations." Katherine Bailey

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"I imagine … that this novel and these characters involve a search for the authentic, which is a noble undertaking. But shouldn’t your characters be authentic to start with?" Carolyn See

Hartford-Courant 2 of 5 Stars
"I can’t stifle the suspicion that, accomplished as she is, Howard has depended too heavily on allusion to carry us, when what some of us need, sitting here in the dark, is to see the whole movie. What’s missing is the energy and conviction that engages us with the loves and the rages, the losses and intense confrontations of fully realized characters." Kit Reed

Critical Summary

Silver Screen is Howard’s eighth historical novel. Throughout her career, critics have lauded her engaging stream of consciousness style, and Silver Screen is no exception. Most critics are pleased with the tale of Bel Murphy, an actress who opts out of her own career and directs the lives of those around her with varying degrees of success. However, some reviewers found Howard’s interweaving timeline disengaging and would have preferred a more direct storyline. Others viewed her seasonal construct unnecessary, and her characters unconvincing. Buck up. After summer, there’s always autumn.

Also by the Author

Big as Life Three Tales for Spring | Maureen Howard (2001): Many thought this a step-up from the first book in the series, A Lover’s Almanac.