Brent Stark, ex-Oscar winner, ex-jailbird is nervous when Stanley, his AA leader, comes to Liz’s party with two strangers in tow. After five years in the clink he has an ex-con’s fear of trouble. Staying out of it by doing a decent day’s work plus getting through another twenty-four hours without a drink are his ambitions now. No matter either that he feels he must tone down his charismatic talent in the Austin, Texas community theatre bit-parts he plays. For he has long ago abandoned any hope of a career comeback.
But when the strangers turn out to be the reps of well-heeled Sam Dupree, whose dream it is to make a different kind of film, and Brent finds that Sam is thinking of asking him to be his director, something stirs inside him again. Brent turns out to be Dupree’s man. And so in My Soul to Keep, Davis Bunn tells the story of Brent and his rag tag band of Hollywood has-beens and outsiders as they make the film “Long Hunter.”
Meanwhile in Tinseltown, Sam Menzes and his Galaxy Studio of über directors and actors are at work on “Iron Feather.” Both films feature the same historic character so a showdown is inevitable. The result is a David and Goliath tale where the unscrupulous power and mega bucks of Galaxy threaten to crush faith-based Shoestrong Productions at every turn.
There is never a dull moment in the story as Bunn flips between the Shoestring and Galaxy camps with the agility and clarity of cinematography. His dialogue is very Hollywood in-the-know and his prose lively and muscular with scarcely a word of flab. Witness these nice effects:
"The church was two blocks off Sunset, in a section of Hollywood that was downshifting from rough to creepy."
“Everywhere he looked the scene was mined with the shrapnel of memories.
“By midnight the street was lined with thousands of custom bikes and the music pounded passing cars with acid-rock fists.”
The cast of My Soul to Keep is as large as any epic. Main characters on both sides are drawn with confident strokes. We experience the world of independent productions through the flawed yet decisive Brent Stark, his optimistic producer Bobby Dupree, cautious actress Celia Breach and a host of others. In Hollywood, Galaxy director Shari Khan along with her ruthless mentor and grandmother Lizu hold our fascination like a couple of cobras.
Despite the book’s high entertainment quotient, it’s not a frothy read, however. Main character Brent asks heavy questions like, Why am I here. Bunn raises issues like getting, and giving, second chances, what it means to be an artist who is Christian, and how faith can impact all of life from how one treats employees to how one responds when treated unjustly. The sum total is one of the most genuinely Christian yet unpreachy books I’ve read lately. I get the feeling that Bunn himself has wrestled with many of these issues in the years he has been involved in both the studio and independent film scenes.
With My Soul to Keep Mr. Bunn has made it onto my list of must-read writers. I heartily recommend this taut thriller cum Hollywood exposé.