(Another guest post by our friend Debbie in San Francisco. :
I never saw the TV show “Rin Tin Tin”. Never saw a single film starring Rin Tin Tin. Never owned a dog. And yet, and yet….Susan Orlean’s opus to the showbiz dog told me all that was necessary to know about the story of this beloved canine character. The book tells a story, wrapped up in a story, wrapped up in yet another story.
The first story is a plastic figurine of Rin Tin Tin that the author’s grandfather keeps in his office. He does not let the children touch or play with the beloved item (more on that later). The next story is the author feeling compelled to share the story of this wondrous showbiz dog and how she became compelled to do so. Then of course, the next story is of the dog itself, and the man who created the legend. It doesn’t end there. Yes, there is another story, and that is of the continuing parade of dogs that keep the Rin Tin Tin legend alive and the dramas as they are pulled into service to share with a rapturous audience, both on the large and small screens. Then the final story is the denouement, the aftermath….and like many things in life, it fades to black.
While all this sounds convoluted (too many stories?) it is not. Orlean is a master at weaving compelling narrative, and she helps the reader make sense of it all. She is a generous writer, in that she is explanatory and helps us all keep things straight in our minds as we’re turning pages.
The tyranny of the years is sadly apparent in this book, as I was hoping for a little more emotive narrative, a la “Seabiscuit”, which made me cry. I did not cry in one place in this book, which surprised me, as I was prepared to do so. Those of you who are interested in Hollywood history will enjoy this book, as “Rinty’s” story could not be told without sharing the underbelly of the entertainment business at the time. With a bit of Kismet, the quasi-silent “The Artist” has won an Oscar this year. We learn a lot about the migration of Rin Tin Tin films from silent to dialogue-filled “talkies”. The author has some beautiful prose about the magic of movies and the emotional spell they cast on audiences. I was riveted.
This book is a life story. It’s a life story of not one dog, but of a character, an idea and a celluloid creation. The idea keeps a number of people happily employed, and we learn of their sagas in turn. When the last pages are unfurling, the reader feels a sense of joy for having known the story of Rin Tin Tin.
p.s. at the end, the author shares that her grandfather had a momentary lack of judgment/generosity, and lets the kids play with the Rin Tin Tin figure he treasured. Guess what happened to it?