Thomas Mallon’s Up With the Sun Captures the Nuance of Historical Fiction

Thomas Mallonthe DC-based author from 2012 water gate and 2019 landing, understands the nuances of historical fiction. He knows that the key to this genre is to realistically recreate historical events and figures. He has succeeded in this in his previous works and achieves this in his latest novel, Up with the sunin which Mallon fictionalizes the botched robbery and murder of Dick Kalmana former Broadway and TV star.

The novel begins on February 23, 1980, the day after Kallman’s death, with a description of the crime scene: “God Almighty! I saw this ultra sharp black and white shot of Dick in one of them Louis XV Chairs… one side of his head flawless and the other side exploding.”

Steven Szladek, Kallman’s surviving lover, lies dead next to Kallman in their apartment on the Upper East Side of New York City, where they ran a fledgling antique shop. From here, Mallon’s prose echoes with nostalgia and anticipation.

The narration alternates between pianist Matt Liannetto‘s first-person narration and an omniscient third-person voice. Liannetto, who met Kallman on Broadway, was at Kallman’s apartment the night of the murder, so he’s a reliable narrator. The pianist patiently offers important information about the police investigation, explains why Kallman was not a trusted friend and introduces the reader to some acquaintances. In several tender moments, Mallon writes about Liannetto’s relationship with the police officer Devin Arroyo. In the odd-numbered chapters, beginning with the very first chapter, Mallon turns back the clock to focus on Kallman’s career and social life from 1951 onwards. Switching back and forth between past and present with every alternate chapter, Mallon creates an echo chamber that helps us enjoy Hollywood’s bygone years and puts us right in the middle of a crime thriller.

Kallmann was a Lucille Ball Protégé who appeared in several Broadway shows including 1951 Seventeenwho played the lead role Kenneth Nelson, and 1965s Half a sixpence. He acted on TV Hank Dearborn on the sitcom Strand. The author moves the plot with many examples of Kallman’s Imbroglios with friends and by weaving in Kallman’s obsession with Nelson the handsome Seventeen Actors, as well as Kallman’s reactions to Nelson’s constant rebuffs. At one point, Kallman tries to tell a an unfavorable story about Nelson Hollywood reporter Columnist, but the journalist rejected the novice move. On another occasion we read about Kallman’s breakup Dyan Cannon‘s finger during a performance because she outshined him. “[By 1971] Dick had pretty much stopped worrying as he pretty much had the answer…no one who knew him liked him,” the omniscient third-person voice tells readers. Nelson confirms Kallman’s belief in a letter to our narrator, Liannetto: “I’m sorry I can’t write more about Dick. I didn’t like him for all the obvious reasons most people did.”

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