I enjoy reading biographies, I prefer them over autobiographies because I think you get a more unbiased, objective sense of events. However, that is not always true because sometimes the author’s hero worship blinds them, and sadly this was the case here.
I enjoy James Dean’s movies but I’ve never really gone beyond that, so I was excited to discover what the man was really like. Obviously he’s an iconic figure and with biographies like these I enjoy seeing the person behind the myth, and while the book delves into his background growing up and some of his motivations to become an actor, I never really got a sense of who James Dean was. It’s certain that he was a complex person, but it seems as though the author wanted to keep him as an enigmatic mystery, and coming out of it I don’t really feel that I learned anything substantial.
Most of the book was made up of passages waxing lyrically about how mysterious and charming and amazing James Dean was. At no point in the book did I ever feel that I was reading about a human being. It never examined his relationships or friendships, and most of the quotes from people who knew him seemed cherry-picked, and they said mostly the same thing, ‘he was special’ etc. This is all well and good, and for someone who didn’t know much about James Dean going it I’m glad I read it because I got a bit of background on him and his movies, but for someone who is already a James Dean fan I don’t think there’s anything in here that they wouldn’t already know.
The author also makes some bizarre choices throughout the book, one of the more annoying ones is his insistence to play around with anagrams to try and force through the idea that James Dean was some kind of divine, mythical being. At one point, when discussing East of Eden, the author writes that, “Dean is almost an anagram of Eden,” as if to suggest the idea that it was divine intervention that he was crafted for this role. Firstly, it’s just a coincidence. secondly, ‘Dean’ is one letter away from a lot of other words. David Dalton returns to this throughout the book and they only become more tenuous and groan-inducing.
I’m aware that this has turned into a very critical review, which I didn’t intend. I think if you don’t know anything about James Dean it’s a pretty good read. I’m glad I did read it. I enjoyed finding out about his background and the events that surrounded him, but I just wish that the author could have separated himself from the subject matter and given a more intimate and human account of James Dean’s life.