Hollywood is made of illusions. But real life can be the greatest illusion of all. And that’s the premise of Alex Espinoza’s The Five Acts of Diego León (Random House).
León begins with Diego as a child, when his father is gone from their small village to fight in the Mexican Revolutionary Ward. Diego eventually moves to a larger town to live with his wealthier maternal grandparents. Now an adult, he would have a well-off, if dull, life if he stayed there. But Diego – who found joy in performing folk dances and theater in his youth – yearns for something more.
While the war rages on in Mexico, Diego moves to Hollywood. And, of course, nothing is what it seems. Diego has to struggle to find work as the Great Depression hits, and he begins to struggle with who he is, both personally – when he has to betray some friendships – and romantically – when he falls in love with someone unexpectedly.
Little wonder he feels most comfortable on the movie set.
“Diego wanted to stay there, in that magnificent studio lot where French cancan dancers walked alongside nurses, where police officers mingled with criminals, where barons in fancy top hats and tuxedos shared cigarettes with homeless men in rags. It was all absurb and funny and dizzying. And yet he felt at home there, among the costumes and extravagance, among the chaos and commotion. This was where he wanted to be, where he needed to be.”
Espinoza writes in simple language, with a fast-moving plot and frequent dialogue, so the book is easy to zip through. He smoothly weaves in historical details with the plot, and the book never feels like a textbook.
But Diego still seems a mystery to the readers – I enjoyed the book, but I never seemed to make an emotional connection with him – and maybe to himself. A twist at the end didn’t hit me as much I thought it would, but it may surprise others.
Deigo León shows how Hollywood and humans are such a mystery.
Espinoza’s first novel was the 2007 Still Water Saints. He was born in Tijerina, Mexico, grew up near Los Angeles and now teaches creative writing and literature at California State University, Fresno.
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.