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By Jim Shankman

IR Rating:
With TALES OF THE PATRIARCHS, Jim Shankman weaves a complex tapestry of ambition and romance set in the silent film era, offering an admittedly challenging read but one where patience is ultimately rewarded.
IR Approved
An ambitious debut novel exploring the early years of the silent film era.

Jim Shankman’s TALES OF THE PATRIARCHS is a stunningly ambitious debut that offers a vivid glimpse into the early years of the silent film era. The story centers on young Sidney Thrall, a Long Island native who longs for “something more” in life than simply making money “out of thin air.” According to his mother, “a man with an uncle in business always has a job,” so Sidney finds work with his uncle Jacob Lasky. Lasky has carved out a small foothold in the burgeoning film industry, and Sidney quickly falls in love with the medium. Sidney eventually leaves his uncle’s company, Lasky-Famous Players, to work with Judah Ben Mayer. Despite his reputation as a “businessman who tumbled rough,” Sidney finds something of a kindred spirit in Judah, unaware of just how intertwined their paths are about to become. Enter Nina Michaels, an aspiring actress with complicated ties to Judah. When a passionate romance develops between Sidney and Nina, conflict (and the ire of Judah) soon follows. As the fates of Sidney, Nina, and Judah collide, Shankman examines the endless complexities of ambition, love, and betrayal.

With TALES OF THE PATRIARCHS, Jim Shankman has crafted an epic narrative as captivating and rich as the era it celebrates. From the vivid scene-setting to the colorful cast of characters, Shankman skillfully employs a rich, descriptive writing style teeming with nods to a bygone era: “For Sidney and Nina, their life together became like a movie, their memories of their time together visual, silent, fading in, fading out, cutting rhythmically from moment to moment and place to place.” Fans of historical fiction will appreciate Shankman’s attention to detail, but TALES OF THE PATRIARCHS is ultimately a rich, epic drama that defies clean genre classification.

Not unlike some of his characters, however, Shankman’s reach occasionally exceeds his grasp. The revolving points of view, in particular, will represent a challenge for many readers. While alternating between a pair of characters is an effective way to add some depth and perspective, Shankman’s frequent shifts involving multiple characters tend to disrupt the story’s flow. For instance, the transitions from Sidney’s third-person narrative (“Sidney felt the room grow: the ceiling rose and the shelves with it”) to Nina’s rambling first-person monologues (“I mutter to myself. My whole body is sharp with pain and slack with exhaustion.”) are often jarring and disorienting. Of course, there is the matter of artistic intent to consider; Shankman’s stylistic choices feel less unorthodox when viewed as an homage mimicking the cinematic techniques of the silent film era. Whereas a more disciplined narrative approach might have benefited reader engagement, Shankman clearly aspires to something a bit more adventurous. TALES OF THE PATRIARCHS probably won’t make for a good “beach read,” but patience is ultimately rewarded with an immersive experience capped by an appropriately dramatic third act.

With TALES OF THE PATRIARCHS, Jim Shankman weaves a complex tapestry of ambition and romance set in the silent film era, offering an admittedly challenging read but one where patience is ultimately rewarded.

~James Weiskittel for IndieReader

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