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SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

Very often, Sheldon seems to hold back from really writing about himself.

The Other Side of Me, Sidney Sheldon, HarperCollins, 2005, paperback, p.369, Rs. 195 WHAT does "the world's favourite storyteller" and the "thriller master of a generation" do before the critics hail him so? He works as a pharmacy delivery boy, an usher, a bus boy, a songwriter, trains to join the Air Force, writes plays for Broadway, scripts for Hollywood films... The Other Side of Me is a book about Sidney Sheldon before he became the Sidney Sheldon who churns out far-fetched, fast-paced plots and schemes involving implausibly talented and beautiful people. It is an account of his struggle through the poverty-filled world of the 1930s post-depression America to become a playwright, a scriptwriter, a screenplay writer and ultimately the novelist who is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most translated author.

The young Sydney

Sheldon begins the story of his life with the dramatic planning of his attempted suicide at the age of 17, when he was still Sydney Schechtel and living in a "demeaning kind of grinding poverty". Young Sydney is immensely likeable — though at times unbelievably cocky. His persistence, bordering on stubbornness, to rise above his circumstances is stimulating, and is a story of having faith in and following a dream. Once he gets to Hollywood though, the book becomes a Niagara of names, a parade of the "legends" he has worked with and the eccentricities they had. Some of the anecdotes seem a trifle forced, and, at times, The Other Side of Me reads like an extended Oscar speech.The somewhat snappy, staccato style of writing that seems to work in his thrillers act against the story in this case, making for a rather disjointed, jerky, almost incoherent narrative. Very often, Sheldon seems to hold back from really writing about himself, hiding instead behind stories of People I Have Worked With and The Hollywood I Have Seen. He mentions his struggle with manic depression, his family troubles and the "up-and-down elevator" that is a career in Hollywood. He fast-forwards through the research and writing of a couple of books and quickly goes back into syrupy, show business mode.

Lost chances

Everything is reduced to an almost superficial simplicity and often moments and events that should have made the reader empathise or exult are lost. The Other Side of Me, though, gives one an idea of the unique and jumbled journey of fortitude, disappointment and accomplishment that has been his life. Except for a couple of pleasantly phrased statements about the Nastiness of Hollywood, the book gives you the feel of having been put together by a contented, elderly gentleman sitting in a wood-panelled study with copious quantities of sunlight coming through the windows and feeling that God's in His Heaven and All's Right With The World.


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