To say that I’m a Gone with the Wind fan would be an understatement. I could recite the movie frontwards and back. I have a curio cabinet filled with music boxes and figurines of Scarlett and Rhett. I visited three Gone with the Wind museums in one day in Georgia, and no matter how many times I read the 1,024 page book, it makes me cry like a baby. I am beyond in love with Scarlett O’Hara’s resilience (she makes a gown out of drapes, people!) and I adore her unconventional, unbreakable relationship with her reserved and proper sister-in-law, Melanie Wilkes. When I heard about Susan Meissner’s Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, a novel about the unlikely friendship between two women set against the backdrop of the filming of Gone with the Wind, I knew I had to read it. As a Gone with the Wind fan, a historical fiction fan, and a fan of great writing in general, I devoured the book faster than you can say “fiddle dee dee.”
Stars Over Sunset Boulevard begins in the present day, with the iconic green hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara erroneously turning up in a vintage clothing boutique. As the attempt to reunite the hat with its owner commences, the true heart of the novel emerges: the story of two young women working in Hollywood in the 1930s and the unexpected bond they form while working for Selznick Studios on the set of Gone with the Wind. A newbie to California in 1938, Violet Mayfield has left behind her dreams of becoming a wife and mother and her genteel Southern life in Alabama to begin anew in Los Angeles. There, she meets the beautiful Audrey Duvall, a one-time rising star who now works in the secretarial pool at Selznick Studios and still dreams of being rediscovered. Though seeming opposites, the women form an indelible friendship that takes them not only through the filming of the legendary film, but through shared secrets and silent heartbreaks in the decades that follow. As their greatest desires collide into a web of difficult choices and unforeseen turns, the strength of their connection is tested, with each woman struggling with the decision of how far she will go for the one thing that matters to her most. Like Gone with the Wind, it’s a novel of friendship, of the strength of women, and of sacrifice, and I savored every chapter.
Even if I weren’t a Gone with the Wind lover, I would have loved Stars Over Sunset Boulevard; as it was, I was in sheer heaven. Reading this book, I felt like I, too, was on the set of the film, sneaking into wardrobe stations and watching as old studio sets were brought down in flames for the burning of Atlanta. What I loved most about this novel is how it beautifully mirrors the strength of female friendship that is so important (and, in my opinion, not praised enough) in Gone with the Wind. The resilient relationship of shy and proper Violet and driven, aspiring-for-more Audrey pays homage to that of Melanie and Scarlett while still owning its own space entirely. Violet and Audrey are characters I rooted for throughout, even as they made difficult choices, and I became more and more invested in their story with each page. I never could have predicted the turns this novel took, and my desire to find out what would become of everyone kept me reading and reading—and kept my TV calling and calling for another viewing of Gone with the Wind. (You can never see it too many times.)
Susan Meissner brings to life characters that draw you in and never let you go. Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is the perfect read for anyone looking to step back in time to the Golden Age of Hollywood and anyone looking to dive into the throes of the once-in-a-lifetime friendship between two unforgettable women. And if the book keeps you from tending to your normal, everyday responsibilities? Don’t think about that now. Think about it tomorrow.