I, Fatty
Jerry Stahl
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I, Fatty
Jerry Stahl
Bloomsbury USA
256 pages
June 2005
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Jerry Stahl, the tenebrous and engaging writer who who turned the lights on himself with his debut Permanent Midnight, a roynish tale about succumbing to the lures and faux-glamour of serious drug intake, now shines the focus on Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, the silent era comedian. Arbuckle, a man earning $1 million a year as an actor in the pre-Depression 1920, fell to earth - or was rather pushed and dragged down - on the false charges or rape and murder.

The author makes us believe we are reading the actor's own diary and consequently the chapters are short and terse and full of movement and verve. But, in adopting this external voice, Stahl limits his typically voluminous prose; Arbuckle speaks in a certain fashion and to go beyond those stylistic limits would imbue the work with a meretricious air.

Of all the great monsters the world has known - the Third Reich, the U.S.S.R. in its terrible glory days, the ultra-Right - Hollywood ranks as the most venal and heartless. It sacrificed one of its own to protect its own worthless behind; when the public was clamoring for a sacrifice, when Tinseltown was touted as a city of conscience-less pimps and artistic whores, the powers-that-be stuck Arbuckle on a spit and roasted him over the fires of public outrage.

He was an innocent man, and in Stahl's fashion we do understand what he must have suffered. To this day, Roscoe's name will forever be associated with this crime-that-never was.

This was obviously a subject close to the author's heart and he does it justice. But what he does best is ripping open the souls of the human beast and describing what he sees there. Hopefully, next time around, he'll regale us with more of his moral dissecting.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Steven Rosen, 2005

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