Devin McKinney's Reviews > Frances Farmer: Shadowland

Frances Farmer by William Arnold
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it was ok
bookshelves: biography, film-adaptation, nonfiction

Arnold's book hits its stride about 2/3 through when he gets on the trail of the Seattle-based judge and psychiatrist who were responsible for legally stripping Farmer of her civil rights and committing her to Western State Hospital, where she stayed five years and sustained no doubt horrific abuse. Arnold makes a case, though not a deeply wrought one, for the committal being the revenge of Seattle's conservative elite upon Farmer, who they felt had embarrassed the city once too often with her atheism, praise for the Soviet Union, and general vibe of anti-authoritarianism. The rest is so skimpy and fleeting that it reminds you less of a book than of an extended weekend magazine piece (Arnold was a journalist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Arnold claims at various points and places to have interviewed "many" people who knew Farmer, either in Seattle, in Hollywood, in Indianapolis, in the mental hospital, or even during a brief Mexican sojourn. He paraphrases what he claims the "many" told him, but there are perhaps fewer than a half-dozen named informants and even fewer direct quotes. Why anyone would do the extensive traveling and interviewing Arnold claims to have done and given the resultant testimony such short shrift is perplexing, and frustrating. But the book reads fast, and though it's written with an (unacknowledged) agenda, it's not insulting to the intelligence; it simply requires a critical reading, and as a work of myth-making whose myths are still believed by many, it has historical importance. Shadowland is only a starting point for the curious; see, e.g., for a refutation.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 2, 2014 – Shelved
July 2, 2014 – Shelved as: biography
July 2, 2014 – Shelved as: film-adaptation
July 2, 2014 – Shelved as: nonfiction

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