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Sunnyside

An ambitious, intelligent, overstuffed novel about three years in the life of Charlie Chaplin

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If the paparazzi had been in business on Nov. 12, 1916, they would have dropped dead from exhaustion. More than 800 imaginary sightings of Charlie Chaplin on that day caused a frenzy across the US – sparking riots and a rumor that the comedian had been lost at sea. Writer Glen David Gold has taken this moment of national hysteria and used it as a jumping-off point for his new World War I epic, Sunnyside.

On that day, lighthouse keeper Leland Wheeler rows desperately to save Chaplin as his boat goes down off the coast of California, while prim railroad employee Hugo Black gets his clock cleaned in Beaumont, Texas, after irate townsfolk burn a train when Chaplin fails to emerge. That’s probably because he’s safe at home in Los Angeles, fingering his violin while sitting on the stairs at his club and listening to people talk about him.

Gold, whose first novel, “Carter Beats the Devil,” was a piece of showmanship swirling with magic, follows these three men over the next three years of World War I and its aftermath. Chaplin creates three films, including the title flop, while raising money for the war effort and dodging rumors that he’s a coward. (The British citizen actually did present himself for service in the war, but was turned down.)

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