Book Review: ‘The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes’ by Elissa R. Stone and ‘The Comeback’ by Ella Berman

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I don’t think anyone can deny that there is something facsinating about looking int the lives of the rich and famous. Even the most sophisticated intellectual has seduced by tabloid headlines or documentaries about popular culture figures.

That’s why the The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R. Stone & The Comeback by Ella Berman, which are both about the far side of the fame machine were both so appealing. The look behind the curtain of Hollywood is irresistible and always satisfying.

That’s not to say that these are happy stories. They aren’t. Both books deal with the ascent of the most fragile of famous creatures: teen girls being packaged for mass consumption.

The Comeback is the story of a young actress named Grace who was created by Hollywood, by one powerful man in particular, then broke down at the peak of her career. The plot sounds like a long-form redemption story you would find in a magazine but it gets to so much more. It’s about the way young people are turned into products by the show business industry. How their humanity is diminished and their whole beings become the property of the people who rely on their very existence to make money. Berman gives us a character who is desperate to reclaim herself from her Hollywood juggernaut past while never being sure if she wants to exit the industry or not.

The Unraveling Of Cassidy Holmes is an inside look at the 90s phenomenon of girl groups. Told in the present after Cassidy’s death and in the past during her rise, the book tells the story of Gloss, a group that started organically enough but morphed into a pop product once the music industry got involved. It manages to be character driven while also exploring the minutia of the process of creating a pop culture phenomenon.

What Cassidy Holmes doesn’t do is convey any joy. The story of how Cassidy Holmes came to join a singing group, become a worldwide star, develop complicated relationship with her bandmates, and navigate Hollywood is strangely bereft of any sense of why she is doing it. Whereas Grace in The Comeback has the desire to be in movies and loves the creative process, Cassidy lacks that motivation. The atmospherics of the story all work but throughout it, I kept asking myself why is Cassidy even here? What did she want from this? Does she love music? Love of music usually pervades stories like this – think Almost Famous or Daisy Jones And The Six – but music is notably missing from this story. Tours, videos, costumes, and meetings take the place of actual music.

And maybe that is why these books are ultimately so very sad: they are both about the industry, not the art.

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