Thursday, September 20, 2018

Book Review: 'Under The Magic Mountain' by Pat Silver-Lasky


‘If Jeff and Jean hadn’t been writers, they would never have ended up owning Santa Rita in the first place.’

Washington born Pat Silver-Lasky attended the University of Washington, Stanford University and Reed College where she produced and directed their first play. Her relationship with Hollywood is an in depth one. In 1913, her future father-in-law, Jesse L. Lasky, produced the first full-length motion picture ‘The Squaw Man’. Her late husband, Jesse L. Lasky, Jr. wrote 48 films, 8 for C.B. DeMille, including The Ten Commandments, and Samson And Delilah; both are in the Top 10 All-Time Box Office Hits. Pat began her career as a Hollywood actress and progressed to directing and writing. With Jesse, she wrote 4 books, 8 produced films, 119 TV scripts including HBO's Philip Marlowe series. Her solo book, SCREENWRITING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY was published in 2004 by Chrysalis in the UK. She and Jesse moved to London in1962. After his death in1988 she taught screenwriting for 9 years at the London Film School, until 2009. Pat married cartoonist/painter Peter Betts in 1998 They now live in Orange County, California. Her other books include RIDE THE TIGER, THE OFFER, A STAR CALLED WORMWOOD, SCMS SCHEMES SCUMBAGS and now UNDER THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN.

At times the author can supply a synopsis that captures the flavor of a book and that is most assuredly the case here: UNDER THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN has the unique literary structure of a book within a book. The central characters, Jefferson Thwaite and Jean Varry, husband/wife American writers working on British TV in London, have come to Spain on an assignment and have discovered the wonders of Andalucia. By the merest fluke of circumstance they buy a rack-going-to-ruin finca in the hills of Andalucia, from a hard-of-hearing British comic named Dykes who, it was reported (and Jeff never doubted it once inside) had sketched its design on the inside of an empty cigarette packet over a plate of fried calamaré one drunken lunch at Puerto José Banus, facing the Mediterranean Sea. Written in the form of a novel into which between Jeff and Jean's personal adventures, are woven their twelve short stories––inspired either by their rustic Spanish village, or the party-going foreign colony that illuminates the Costa Del Sol. Their stories are heavy on light humor and moments of mystery. Under The Magic Mountain is book one can enjoy a chapter at a time. Some things are truer than others, and that is the way of fiction. Some things live only in the world of imagination, and that is the way of truth.’

A touch of the magic of Pat’s writing skills is evident in the opening paragraphs – ‘She was looking back over her shoulder at Santa Rita, seeing it diminishing from the taxi heading towards Malaga airport. ‘Santa Rita pray for me…’ she sighed under her breath. ‘What?’ Jeff asked, turning his attention from the fastener on his decomposing briefcase. ‘Santa Rita,’ Jean repeated. ‘Pray for me.’
Mm,’ he said. ‘For us both then, please.’ That Santa Rita was the patron saint of the deaf was important to the original owner of the house he’d named after her. It was more important to a pair of writers like Jefferson Thwaite and his wife and collaborator, Jean Varry because Santa Rita is also patron saint of the impossible. The Impossible, as both Jeff and Jean well knew, was for writers always a close companion. And anyone, saint or otherwise, who could accomplish it on their behalf was to be honoured, and indeed worshipped, Not to mention prayed to occasionally. Santa Rita was the rack-going-to-ruin that the Thwaites had purchased in the hills of Andalucia from a hard-of-hearing British comic named Dykes who, it was reported (and Jeff never doubted it once inside) had sketched its design on the inside of an empty cigarette packet over a plate of fried calamaré one drunken lunch at Puerto José Banus, facing the Mediterranean Sea. The house was constructed according to his gastronomically-charged specifications by a Scottish architect, who wisely dropped dead before the comic could sue him. Jeff pointed out that the back hallway looked as though Cyril Dykes had accidentally dropped a calamaré on the cigarette packet floor plan, and there was nothing comical about that when you got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Cyril’s architect, fortified no doubt by the inspiration of his national beverage, produced on a hill top above a Spanish valley and looking down the opposite vista towards that blue expanse, the Mediterranean––a sprawling rustic concoction of sinking floors, porous roof tiles, and waterless plumbing.’

Part personal experience and part just fine drama, this is Pat Silver-Lasky at her best.








Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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