Up With the Sun: A novel
A WASHINGTON POST BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • Through the curious life of Dick Kallman—a real-life celebrity striver, poisonously charming actor, and eventual murder victim—the unforgiving worlds of postwar showbiz and down-low gay sexuality are thrown into stark relief in this “page-turning blast” (James Ellroy, author of Widespread Panic)
"Engrossing…[A] keen portrait of 1980s New York…a pensive, often gorgeous depiction of…gay life in Manhattan before Stonewall and life on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic." —The Washington Post
Dick Kallman was an up-and-coming actor in the fifties and sixties—until he wasn’t. A costar on Broadway, a member of Lucille Ball’s historic Desilu workshop, and finally a primetime TV actor, Dick had hustled to get his big break. But just as soon as his star began to rise, his roles began to dry up and he faded from the spotlight, his name out of tabloids and newspapers until his sensational murder in 1980.
Through the eyes of his occasional pianist and longtime acquaintance Matt Liannetto, a tenderhearted but wry observer often on the fringes of Broadway’s big moments, Kallman’s life and death come into appallingly sharp focus. The actor’s yearslong, unrequited love for a fellow performer brings out a competitive, vindictive edge in him. Whenever a new door opens, Kallman rushes unwittingly to close it. Even as he walks over other people, he can never get out of his own way.
As Matt pores over the life of this handsome could-have-been, Up With the Sun re-creates the brassy, sometimes brutal world that shaped Kallman, capturing his collisions with not only Lucille Ball, but an array of stars from Sophie Tucker to Judy Garland and Johnny Carson. Part crime story, part showbiz history, and part love story, this is a crackling novel about personal demons and dangerously suppressed passions that spans thirty years of gay life—the whole tumultuous era from the Kinsey Report through Stonewall and, finally, AIDS.
Praise for Up With the Sun: A novel
A New York Times Editor's Choice • A Buzzfeed Most Anticipated LGBTQ+ Read of the Year • Crimereads Most Anticipated Crime Fiction of the Year • Crimereads, “25 Historical Crime, Mystery, and Horror Novels to Look Forward To in 2023”
“A hypnotically readable book. . . . Mallon uses [actor Dick Kallman] to bring an era to life with satiric specificity—and he allows his main character enough insight to perceive his own flaws without having the will to fix them. . . . Mallon appears to have done considerable research for ‘Up With the Sun.’ His prose is imbued with the snark and sentiment of the showbiz world it describes—the legendary theaters, the hits and flops, the camaraderie, envy and ego. Also notable is the novel’s glancing but organic documentation of New York and Los Angeles gay society, from the discreet and furtive ’50s through Stonewall and the AIDS epidemic. Mr. Mallon seems to write scenes that have never been written before. . . . A vivid portrait.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Dazzling. . . . Throughout his writing career, Mallon has perfected the art of immersing readers in times past without making us feel like we're strolling through a simulacrum like Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A. Unlike his anti-hero Kallman, Mallon never lays it on too thick. For instance, Mallonhas an expert's fine appreciation for the mundane language of the period. . . . Lest the atmosphere get too nostalgic, too maudlin, Mallon's signature wit remains crisp as a kettle chip. He clearly has a blast. . . . Mallon's best historical novels — and this is one of them — are haunted by a sharp awareness of the transiency of things. So it is that fame and the magic of even the greatest of performances, such as Judy Garland's 1961 comeback show at Carnegie Hall, are only momentary. . . . This sweeping novel takes readers up to the early days of the AIDS epidemic; an epidemic Mallon himself lived through. . . . As Up With the Sun nears its end, we readers realize AIDS is waiting in the wings, which makes the time we spend — even with the entertaining, yet obnoxious likes of Mallon's Dick Kallman — all the more precious.” —NPR
“[A] well-researched imagining. . . . As a drive down the highway of old-style entertainment (theater, movies, books, music, TV) — with gossip columns on the shoulder — Up With the Sun is an unqualified success. It’s replete with amusing walk-ons … with knowing, affectionate references … and with sidelong observations of cultural change.” —The New York Times
"Engrossing. . . . [A] keen portrait of 1980s New York, [an] effortless evocation of the period. . . . What emerges as the book unfolds is a pensive, often gorgeous depiction of the contrast — or really, the continuum — between gay life in Manhattan before Stonewall and life on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic, a contrast that grows sharper, and infinitely sadder, as the book proceeds. . . . [A] vast, sweeping pattern that comes into view in the book’s final quarter, when its grand design, and Mallon’s true historical subject, reveals itself. . . . Up With the Sun's great triumph is to render its world in not two dimensions but three, to make the lives of a pair of peripheral players not merely operatic but genuinely, shatteringly tragic." —The Washington Post
"Much of the fun in Up With the Sun comes from Mallon’s treatment of the parade of showbiz players that cross paths with Kallman. . . . Where Mallon sprinkles his celebs you can bet their activities and résumés are rooted at least partially in reality (he includes photos of Kallman at various points of his career, adding to the novel’s documentary sheen). . . . In the end, Up With the Sun has its cake and eats it, too. It’s an ode to the more poisonous elements of show business that it also manages to bask in the ridiculousness of it all. You won’t like Dick Kallman. But good luck taking your eyes off him." —The Boston Globe
"Thomas Mallon has been America’s premier historical novelist for a decade. Up With the Sun cinches the accolade. It’s New York City in the aching 80’s. The murder of show-biz bottom feeder/monster Dick Kallman and his male lover ramifies throughout the turmoil of the decade—in a stunning hybrid of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and frontline reports from a beleaguered gay demimonde. This book packs period pizzazz and heartbreaking intimacy. And, as always with Mallon—it’s a page-turning blast.” —James Ellroy, author of Widespread Panic
“In this funny, vicious tale of ambition and moral corrosion, Thomas Mallon turns his rapier intelligence and seismographic sense of the workings of power to the worlds of Hollywood and Broadway. Among imperishable legends and declining stars, he chronicles desperate competition and half-open secrets, the longing for the next new thing and the lure of the past. Up With the Sun is a novel as stark as a Greek drama and as delicious as gossip.” —Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You
“Part crime investigation and part showbiz cautionary tale, this novel takes place over three history-packed decades of gay life. Engagingly written and based on real-life personalities, this is historical fiction at its best.” —Buzzfeed, “Most Anticipated LGBTQ+ Reads of 2023”
“Dick Kallman was a real-life actor whose career was poisoned by homophobia against him and his own bad behavior—around in the 50s and 60s as an up-and-comer, only to vanish … and reappear in the news as a murder victim in 1980. . . . I can’t wait to be emotionally devastated by this one.” —Crimereads, “Most Anticipated Crime Fiction of 2023”
"Mallon’s sparkling latest ... draws inspiration from real-life actor Dick Kallman’s career on Broadway and television and his 1980 murder. . . . Peppering the juicy drama of Dick’s ambition and unrequited love with pop cultural references, as well as cameos from Dyan Cannon and Kaye Ballard, Mallon creates a fascinating, page-turning tale. Readers will be swept off their feet." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Superb. . . . Fluidly written with well-realized characters, the novel is great gossipy fun to read. Film and theater buffs will be delighted." —Booklist
“The author of a smart, tart series of political novels—most recently Landfall (2019)—casts an equally well-informed, unromantic eye on the entertainment industry and its closeted gay denizens. . . . Mallon acidly limns the ridiculous games gay actors were forced to play—dates with 'beards,' fake engagements—in those pre-Stonewall days.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Part mystery and part homage to showbiz also-rans, this sensational (in both senses) novel imagines the aftermath of real-life actor Dick Kallman's 1980 murder and the three decades that precede it. Novelist Thomas Mallon has mastered the art of fictionalizing the lives of historical figures. . . . Dick Kallman … may not have been a prominent historical figure, but in Up with the Sun, Mallon leans on the not-quite star's biography to tell a story every bit as revealing about American ambition as the author's previous efforts centered on political giants. . . . The novel … unspool[s] like a mystery. . . . In Old Hollywood parlance, Up with the Sun has a cast of thousands. There are delectable walk-ons as well as fully dramatized scenes featuring both famous faces (Natalie Wood, Robert Osborne) and stars of lower wattage. . . . Dick’s unlikability is on hilariously preening display. . . .The wonder of Mallon's characterization is that, for all of Dick's weaselly ways, he remains sympathetic—except when he crosses Lucille Ball. Then he's pushing it.” —Shelf Awareness