Adventures in American Literature #4: Dance with the Devil

Kirk Douglas (b. 1916) – Dance with the Devil (1990)

Unlike the last Jewish-American writer I read, Olivia Goldsmith, Kirk Douglas’s first attempt at fiction is a pretty sorry one. Yes, it’s entertaining, but rather than being enjoyable like The First Wives Club or Peyton Place, Dance with the Devil is simply trashy writing masquerading as art. Douglas seems to take his cues from Harold Robbins, as pointed out in this New York Times book review: “If [protagonist] Danny’s life seems born out of Charles Dickens as midwifed by Samuel Goldwyn, with [co-protagonist] Luba we feel firmly settled in Harold Robbins territory, the broad-canvas histrionics of The Carpetbaggers and The Inheritors …. Steamy sex rushes at us with astonishing regularity, some of it by way of Krafft-Ebing.” True, there appears to be at least one sex scene in every chapter; I give Douglas some credit for being less inhibited about writing them than most female romance writers, but after a while you yawn and say to yourself, “Oh, another one?” After a while the repetition is tedious.

As a plus, the novel is fairly easy to get through. That facility, however, may be due to the fact that it’s not a very well-written book, so you’re not tempted to linger on any passages. The novel could have been really interesting if it had had only one main character and focused more on backstory instead of zipping around between multiple convoluted plots. There’s no doubt that Douglas is a fine actor, and more power to him for still being around at age 96, but his fiction-writing skills leave a lot to be desired.

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