When reviewers differ, how do readers decide? It can all depend on how the book is positioned.
Janet Maslin clearly did not like it. She writes in her cutting NYT review that is its, “strangely unfocused … chopped into a few chapters about seemingly arbitrarily chosen families.”
However, the review in the LA Times by author Judith Freeman is far more compelling, saying that reading the book is:
“like being at an insider’s cocktail party where the most delicious gossip about the rich and powerful is being dished by smart people, such as Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Arthur Miller and Dennis Hopper. The result is a mesmerizing book … compulsively readable, capturing not just a vibrant part of the history of Los Angeles … but also the real drama of this town, as reflected in the lives of some of its most powerful players.”
Those players include the Dohenys, the Warners, Jane Garland, Jennifer Jones, and the Steins (big figures in movies, money, and real estate), each with a seemingly more grand, outrageous, tragic, or dysfunctional story to tell than the next.
Readers are clearly weighing in on the side of the cocktail party take. Strong demand is driving holds over a 3:1 ratio at nearly every library we checked, which has resulted in several systems ordering extra copies after buying very low.